Melissa Wuidart Phillips, author of Dyslexic Writer shares some useful techniques for dyslexic writers.
What is dyslexia? For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, dyslexics are the same as anyone else, but their brains process information differently, each in its own individual way. This often means that they struggle with reading and writing, but these are only some of the more widely known facts; there are many more, subtle variations. While dyslexics may struggle with some things, they excel in other areas, such as creativity, owing to their ability to see things differently; often including excellent visualisation skills and being able to see ideas three-dimensionally and come at problems from a completely different angle.
I am dyslexic myself and love the fact, and feel it is something to be celebrated; but whenever anyone who works with dyslexia hears that I am a writer, they are very surprised and impressed. This reaction is understandable due to the volume of writing involved; I shall go into some more details to help anyone, including other dyslexics interested in writing, to understand how it works so brilliantly.
I write fantasy, which is a common favourite genre with dyslexics; the worlds that can be created often focus on different character strengths, such as kindness and passion on an epic scale. Removing the characters from everyday scenarios can create a stronger connection for dyslexics. Often fantasy heroes are outsiders, who never felt that they quite fitted in. Suddenly they understand why, and are appreciated for who and how they are.
I was very lucky growing up, I found audiobooks at a young age and was able to listen to stories about characters of a comparable age to my own. Often dyslexics struggle with reading and can only read books meant for a much younger age; but I was already listening to “Treasure Island” at the age of about nine, despite the fact that I didn’t even realise that all those funny markings on a page were really a secret code that allowed people to read the same words over and over; I just thought reading was a magical process where you memorized the story. I did not really discover reading until I was about twelve and read “Harry Potter”, which I knew very well.
I have always been passionate about stories and listen to something every day; even before I could write I was telling stories and dictating them to be typed up; writing is a true passion for me and I could not be without it.
To start with, I had to learn how to spell every single word individually; there are still some which escape me, but I love writing so much, that I was prepared to keep going.
I first wanted to write a novel, because I wanted something that I would love to read, which would have all the elements of a story that I loved: I was twelve and it was about ten pages, but I was so pleased with it.
Of course every dyslexic is different, as is every style of writing, but there are a few basic things to remember which will always be useful.
Always have a go: you have to start somewhere and let your abilities, writing style and voice develop; just like anything else, you have to practise and get used to how it works and that’s fine; it can be a wonderful journey.
If you can’t spell then don’t worry, just get it onto the page first, then try and find a willing family member or friend to help spell-check if the work’s going out into the public, such as competitions; there are also dyslexic-specific computer programs to help.
Also, read things out loud: I have to, to be able to process information properly, but it can help pick up errors and makes you realise if there are any tongue twister sentences or unpronounceable names.
Try recording audio versions: I have a headset which allows me to record audio onto my computer; so that I can record small sections of long pieces of work and then listen to it all in one go to check for continuity. It gets round the problem of not being able to read more than a few pages at any one time.
Write on a computer if you can: I find it much easier to review my work; you can edit, move things around, there are no wrist pains and illegible hand-writing; plus it will mostly tell you (homophones excluded) when you’ve spelt something incorrectly: but don’t always believe what it says!
Remember that spelling and punctuation are the foundations that make your story come across to the reader; how you punctuate tells them when to speed up with urgency, or when to pause and reflect; just don’t let it weigh you down in the first stages.
Build up your word count each day: keep a record of it, see how you improve over the years; and remember, to do any writing is always something to be proud of, no matter how short or rough; it can always be polished and nurtured. Don’t be put off by other peoples’ word counts if they’re so much higher: just be proud of what you’ve achieved!
I often go for long periods where I don’t write anything, because when I do it can be so intense and take up all my time; I like to get a balance, to refresh myself by listening to books that inspire me. There is an animation I love, “Whisper of the Heart”, which is all about writing and honing your craft; I always remember this one bit, where she’s struggling and is told that inside this rock there is a gemstone, just waiting to be found with lots of hard work and polishing. Often I may appear to be doing nothing, but secretly my mind is churning, working on plot problems and bringing two ideas together to make a new story; I greatly value this time and feel it’s important to leave space for process, so that when the story comes together, it is formed and just waiting to be written down.
I like keeping detailed character profiles, but also I often draw sketches of people, creatures and detailed maps to make sure that what I’m describing looks right and makes sense. I also love the short story; after all that time spent agonising over novels, they are a welcome break and much easier to get out there.
My world of writing is truly wonderful; when I’m writing I am the characters, I am walking along the paths they are, seeing what they do, feeling what they do; we live and breathe together, in that moment nothing else exists.
When I started writing, I never would have believed that I could come so far and be recognised in such amazing ways, by amazingly supportive people.
Just remember when you’re struggling, whether you’re dyslexic or not, everything has potential.
© Melissa Wuidart Phillips Blackheath Dawn Writer 2014
Recently there have been excellent articles in the papers about people like dyslexics, who are now called “neurodiverse”, and how much they can offer companies with their special skills.
The main computer programme is “Text Help”.
Also it’s worth, as I found, if you’re dyslexic to look into getting reading glasses with prisms in; they won’t work for everybody, they either do or don’t; but they changed my reading life recently. Find a dyslexic aware optician if you can.