It’s taken me several weeks to put this part together and I’m still not happy with it, but I’ve done my best to be honest and I hope people reading this will get a good insight into what its like writing with this gremlin. This is a factual piece and I found it far trickier than a fictional one. After many re-writes, here we go.
I’ll break this down into three parts, Handwriting, Concentration and confidence.
Thank Turing for the computer!! Thank Microsoft for spell check!! Without these two vital tools I’d never write a single word. Ok, spell check isn’t fool proof, it can take all those irritating zig-zag lines from my document but still leave it riddled with errors people find embarrassing to read, let alone write.
Technology aside, dyslexia affects me in various ways; starting with my handwriting. EVEN I CAN’T READ IT!! We all know how impossible it is to read a doctors note, times that by ten and you have an idea of what its like to read mine.
Back in school, one of my teachers described my hand written scrawl in such a beautifully poetic way that it stayed with me ever since. He said, and I remember it word for word, “your hand writing is like a spider, that crawled out from an alcoholic ink well and staggered all over the page.”
Instead of being upset with this comment, (and trust me, a lot of what my teachers said to me is now considered a form of abuse,) I found myself pleasantly moved by it. I could literally see in my mind a spider, totally out of its head on booze, falling over itself in a manner Charlie Chaplin would have been proud of. (And just in case you were wondering, he was one of the good teachers. So good in fact I can’t remember his name. Oh well.)
For me to write neatly I need to do it very slowly, which is difficult because in that moment when I’m jotting down an idea, my mind is racing and I need to keep up with it. So I rush, and in doing so, my spider comes out to play.
Believe me, I’ve tried so hard over the years to neaten up my hand, but it simply isn’t meant to be. I can draw for hours on end; the only problem is my arm gets tired eventually. With writing, by the time I’ve been scribbling for several words or so, my hand begins to shake uncontrollably. I stop, shake my hand and try to carry on. The shaking leads to discomfort and if I continue, it feels as if my hand could cramp up. No one in school believed me when I tried to tell them about this; they just called me lazy, stupid, thick as shit. (Does anyone else with dyslexia relate to any of this?)
But that’s generally what happens when I write by hand. Because of this, as well as the constant put down by school and such, I didn’t do much writing in my early life, avoiding it as much as I could. Looking back, I now deeply regret that I wasn’t writing as often as I could have. My head was always full of stories and characters keeping me entertained and distracted from real life.
Towards the end of my school years I remember plucking up the nerve to ask a teacher, who I foolishly thought I could trust, if I had anything of a chance as a writer. All I can recall is the look of mockery on her face as she was clearly trying her hardest not to burst out laughing. This, as you can probably imagine, kicked what little self worth I had left at that point straight into the gutter, and there it stayed for over a decade.
And still, my creative mind kept ticking over. It was during this ten years or so that I had my moment of inspiration for a short story that is now my main novel project. More on this later.
With handwriting, I still to this day mix my lower and upper cases, I still struggle to remember which way my d’s and b’s go, my numbers look like some long forgotten language and the sizes of my lettering is random.
Classic tell tail signs of dyslexia. I remember being tested for it on at least three occasions. The first time confirmed it, the other two times couldn’t make their minds up, but I know its true that I do have the condition.
Writing is in my blood. My mind is crammed to bursting point with people and their stories, waiting impatiently to be let out of my skull and released into the world, which brings me to another aspect of the problem that I’ve already mentioned in the first part of this post, concentration!
Dyslexics are visionaries and dreamers. We also tend to have short attention spans, but of course there are those with the condition who can zone in so deeply it’s a struggle to get their attention. It depends on the individual. For me, it’s the short span usually, though my wife would tell you differently. Personally I find that I struggle to keep focus on anything that doesn’t really interest me. Big deal, I hear you mumble, everyone’s like that. Maybe, but look at from the perspective of a dyslexic, if there was only one subject in school I actually liked I’d give it all my attention, where as all the other subjects would simply fly past me without a sniff. People without the problem are able to focus on things more or less equally regardless of their interest in the subjects. This alone is what separates the dyslexic from all the other kids. One or two subjects will be highly praised while all others will barely scrape by.
It is a learning disability. Carrying this forward into my adult life meant having to learn skills for work. In a nutshell, my working history is about as exciting and interesting as a political lecture, so I won’t bore you with it.
I’ve had to learn how to zone in to the creative flow and hold on to it. Once I’m there, I can be tapping away at my keyboard for up to an hour or so if the words keep flowing. The trouble is I’m easily distracted. If there were awards for procrastination, I’d be a world champion.
For me to get into the zone I need silence, solitude and time. I’ll pick a project that takes my fancy or create a new one, then get going. To begin with I’m focused, which is great, then gradually my mind will start to ponder the problems of another story, and I need to wrestle with my own mind to stay focussed on the first one.
In all honesty, it’s sometimes like I’m in conversation with one character for a time, only to be rudely interrupted by another from a different story, barging in and taking over. I have to usher this impertinent character out the door and get back to the person I was chatting with to begin with, unless he or she has decided to bugger off in the mean time. Is it any wonder why people think I’m weird, sitting there arguing with myself. I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone thinks I’m psychic, communicating with ghosts. I’m not, I’m playing parent to a bunch of imaginary people I’ve invented that can’t behave from time to time.
On the point of my handwriting, in contrast to my artistic talents, I have something of a fondness for calligraphy. I can write in old English quite easily. Its neat, tidy and readable, but; when I try a more stylish font, like copperplate for example, my pet spider once again goes break dancing all over the paper.
As soon as I find the mains plug for the scanner I’ll upload a few examples.
Handwriting and concentration; done. The third problem is quite simply, confidence. I’ve already touched on how having dyslexia has caused me to struggle in my life that I’m sure many of you reading this can sympathise with. Not being able to keep up with the other kids made me an easy target, not only from the other kids but also from teachers who couldn’t be bothered with me.
I hate to say it, but also family are partly responsible for my low self-esteem. Always made to feel like I’m useless, stupid, a waste of space, that I’m simply not able to do anything, a disappointment. I had such big dreams as a kid. If I had the support and encouragement I needed perhaps I’d have achieved them. By now I could have been a famous actor, concert violinist, artist, or author with dozens of books on the shelf and a string of movies based on them.
I can clearly remember many moments in my childhood where I’ve gone into a sort of trance and I’m telling myself a story, almost like I’ve used my brain to tune into TV signals and I’m watching something in my head. So from an early age I’ve had the idea to be a writer and it has never left me, no matter how much I’ve been knocked back. Many years and numerous trails later, I’m taking the bull by the horns and battling with my demons in order to try and live out one of those childhood dreams. I’m going to become an author, and nothing but death himself can stop me.
Before I bring this to a close I feel there’s just one more thing I feel is worth mentioning. I’ve already said that like other dyslexics I’m a bit slow with understanding things. This also applies when I watch a film or, dare I say it, read a book. Most people watch a film and follow it perfectly, picking up on all the clues, hints and suggestions made throughout it. As much as I enjoy watching films and TV shows, I don’t always get it first time, so I need to watch things more than once in order to understand the story fully.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, it’s a bit weird but; I even struggle to understand my own stories, and this is one of the main reasons why it takes me longer to complete one than other writers.
I cannot begin to describe how much I deeply admire authors like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. These two, amongst others, are constantly writing every day. They can just sit down and get on with it. I’d sell my soul to be able to do that. Just to come up with an idea and, just get on with it!! Several hours later it’s done ready for polishing.
One day, I’ll reach that prestigious moment when I’m writing those sacred words on the bottom of the last page, The End. I know writing isn’t easy, but then neither is playing a musical instrument, but some people take to it like they were born already loaded with years of training and experience in their DNA! It seams I’m one of the many who are destined to struggle.
Oh well. It won’t stop me. I’ll either write my books or die trying.
I hope this article has been insightful for all who stumble across it, with or without dyslexia. The last thing I’d like to say on this post is on behalf of all those in this world with learning difficulties, and that is simply to be patient with them, patient and understanding. Like I said earlier; just because someone is useless at something or many things, doesn’t mean that person is an idiot. Calling some one that is deeply wounding and we tend to remember it clearly for the rest of our lives. I’ve seen people with down syndrome perform amazing acts of artistic brilliance and had the audience in tears. I’ve heard many tails of so called idiots having the spark of brilliance the experts would never have thought of.
There were moments in my life when I felt so pointless I wondered why I was ever born in the first place, and the people who were supposed to help me through it were the ones responsible for wasting my education ‘cause they frankly couldn’t be arsed with me, and other kids like me. If things were different, I’d have lived a much more productive life.
There is a difference between a fool and an idiot. The fool is the one calling the idiot, because the fool is ignorant.
I’m going to do it for two main reasons. One, to prove to myself that I can do it, and more importantly, to prove to those who put me down over the years they were wrong.
This article will be updated and improved as time goes by. For now, I must get back to the clutter that is my clogged up mind and produce as many stories as I can from the chaos between my ears.