Friday, 30 July 2010

A dyslexic writer?

I have done a lot of self examination over the last five years. I have come to regignise my character flaws and come to terms with them, I have learned how to forgive and generally I am a content person. I still have issues but who doesn't? The difference is today I recognise my issues when they come up and can actively fight them.

Recently I realised the one exception to this was my dyslexia. I have never examined it and aside from reading enough to know I had it, I never delved any deeper.

It's time to change that and to examine exactly why I should let a condition over which I had no control affect my life.

I've known I was dyslexic since I was about 21 but have never been formally tested. As an adult I would have had to pay for a test (which cost about £400) and since I had already found my own coping mechanisms for most things I couldn't see the point.

I think I get my dyslexia from my Dad, but I didn't grow up with him, I hardly saw him and my mother and sister have a perfect grasp of the English language (and a couple of others). I felt like a freak. I didn't know that my Dad might be like me, I just knew that things that should come easily to me didn't. It didn't occur to me that conversely they didn't understand electricity, why the sun shone, how their washing machine, cars, radios and lights worked etc etc but all I could see was the ways in which I didn't measure up to them. They didn't and still don't care how the things around them work, so I didn't receive any praise for that sort of stuff. Until something was broken of course, then I was the go-to girl.

State school was hard, I was falling behind and acting out so after 3 years I was moved to a private school. I (mostly) loved it there, but there were many frustrating things. I hated that I was with children a year younger then me (I didn't meet my own age groups standards) I hated that even when I got every question right, some teachers would mark me down for poor writing and spelling. I hated that I had to have extra, one on one english lessons because everyone in the class knew where I went at lunchtime, I felt like an outcast. And it meant I had extra homework!

During summer holidays I sometimes had private tutors, I even had calligraphy lessons. I can do very pretty calligraphy, but I still cant write for toffees! Calligraphy is art, not writing. And it was still mis-spelt!

When I gingerly told my mother I thought I might be dyslexic (I felt like I was making an excuse for my spelling) she said she'd suspected and had asked my school about it, only for the Head to tell her dyslexia was a myth. There were 3 other dyslexics in my class but I guess their parents arranged for their tests.

I never held anything against my school, I did very well on my exams (especially the sciences) thanks to them, but only now as I'm trying to become a writer can I see the deep seated insecurities that my school and parents instilled in me.

As a young child I had something called Storyteller, which were comic books with accompanying audio tapes. I loved those and couldn't wait until a new one came out. But I gradually outgrew them and couldn't find anything else I wanted to read. My choices were Enid Blyton and Judy Bloom. I picked a couple up and soon put them down again. It wasn't until I discovered science fiction that I had a reason to want to read. I was then a pretty voracious reader, branching out into fantasy and horror. I was almost addictive, I would stay up all night just to find out how a good book finished.

Those stories also inspired me to write. Back then I scrawled my stories in notebooks, then on the school computer but I rarely showed them to anyone. One story I was really proud of I showed to my teacher. I don't remember if she liked it, I only remember seeing it covered in red ink. I think I got 6/10.

Still, I carried on writing because it was something I enjoyed. About the same time I discovered I was dyslexic I also discovered the internet. Here was somewhere I could share my stories and not have to worry about bad reactions. It didn't matter if people hated them because they didn't know who I was. As it turns out, 12 years ago the internet was a much nicer place and no one was mean or "flamed" me. I grew in confidence, found people who would proof my work and offer feedback before I posted it so my writing began to improve too.

Then when I was 25 I tried my first novel, showed it to my mother and felt crushed by her reaction. I stopped writing for a couple of years, my drinking got heavier and I hit rock bottom when I was 28. I don't blame my dyslexia for my being an alcoholic but those feelings of never being good enough certainly helped me on my downward spiral. I quit drinking on my 28th birthday with the help of AA and I haven't had a drink since. It's been a journey of self discovery since then, with this one noticeable exception.

When I was sending my manuscripts out last year, I felt like a fraud. A dyslexic writer. Ha, good one! I didn't mention it in my covering letter (which would have been a good selling point) and as rejection after rejection rolled in I wasn't surprised. Why would anyone want to read it?

This time though, I didn't stop writing. The sequel came and now I'm half way through the threequel. I showed it to some readers of that genre and they loved it but I still feel like a fraud. Me a writer! Pull the other one, it's got bells on.

A part of me still doesn't feel that it's real. For so long I have been told that I should be able to do X and Y but now that I have an actual reason why i cant do X and Y, or why I find them harder than normal people, I feel that I'm making an excuse. Let me be clear on that, I believe that dyslexia is real and i would believe anyone who explained their literacy (and some other problems) ob being dyslexic. It's just me who is the fraud.

It's hardly considering that just the other week when I tried to explain some of the results from my self examination on other topics to my sister (foolishly thinking she might gain some insight into herself) she told me I was a victim which is why I like labels.

I don't consider myself a victim. Shit happens, that's life. To moan and whinge about the relatively little shit in my life would be self indulgent in the extreme. However to overcome an issue, one must first understand it. You cannot learn to read without first learning the alphabet. You cannot learn to dance without first learning the steps. I need to understand what is happening inside my head before I can find ways to counteract it.

I don't know how I'm going to get over this but examining it is the first step which is why I'm joining forums, reading articles and examining my feelings on the subject.

Already I have discovered a lot of information that I never knew was related to dyslexia. Did you know that being untidy is common among dyslexics? As is difficulty managing time and appointments, reading analogue clocks, difficulty remembering right from left and dificulty remembering sequences, not just number sequences but things like lists and timelines.

I'm starting to understand why no one really understands me. I don't just have poor language skills, I have a totally different way of processing the world.

But dyslexia isn't all bad and different can be a good thing, if you also recognise the strengths it can give you. I'm in good company too! Here are some famous dyslexic writers and authors.

Stephen Cannell, television writer & novelist
Agatha Christie
W.B. Yeats
Hans Christian Andersen
Fannie Flagg (Author of "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe")
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Examples of other famous people with dyslexic can be found here.

Why not find out if you might be dyslexic with this quick test.

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