This may seem weird, but for the majority of the time I spent working on my autobiographical novel, I never really felt like, or identified as, a “writer.” In fact, I’ve had a somewhat contentious relationship with writing for most of my life, which I attribute, in part, to my dyslexia. But writing this book and learning about story structure has helped me overcome some of my early challenges and has even led to a shift in my identity.
In third grade, my teacher recommended that I get tested for dyslexia because, as he told my parents at the time, “the stories Nelson ‘reads’ aloud are always more interesting than what is written on the page.” Dyslexia, a problem “in the brain’s phonological (or ‘word sound’) processing system,”￼ is most often associated with difficulties relating to reading and writing. Like most people with this condition, I have always struggled with spelling and grammar.
In school, I remember turning in writing assignments that I had spent hours agonizing over, and the very first piece of feedback I’d receive was, “it was good, but there are a lot of spelling mistakes.” It was beyond frustrating to have worked so hard on an assignment only to have a teacher or fellow student immediately point out its flaws. Even if you do not have dyslexia, I’m sure you can relate to how demoralizing this can feel.
I also couldn’t understand why spelling was so important. You see, due to the way my brain processes language, I often don’t notice when a word is misspelled because all words are a bit jumbled. This left me feeling cheated because I thought I was being judged too harshly on what I viewed as trivial details.
These experiences made me believe that writing was spelling and grammar, and since I was never going to be good at those, it was clear that I would never be a “writer.”
The other way dyslexia has affected my perception of writing has to do with the challenges I’ve always had with organizing my thoughts. If spelling and grammar are a weakness, then being able to see the big picture is what you might call my “superpower.” People with dyslexia are really good at “interconnected reasoning,” which means that ideas and answers to problems often pop into my mind, seemingly out of nowhere.
While seeing the big picture is great for problem-solving, it can make it challenging to share your vision with others. Teachers would often deduct points in school because I would just write down an answer without “showing my work.” Part of the problem was I didn’t know how to reconstruct the steps that led to my epiphanies. I intuited that the ideas in my head were somehow connected, but without a system for organizing my thoughts, my writing often came out as a jumbled mess that the teacher could not understand, and I struggled to explain.
With all these challenges, the idea that I could, or would want to, write anything longer than a few pages never even seemed realistic to me. So when I started working on my novel, I couldn’t help but feel a bit crazy for embarking on such an undertaking. But through the process of this project, I’ve learned how to compensate for my weaknesses and found new tools to help organize my thoughts. These strategies will be the focus of my next post, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, and I’ll see you next time!