This is a subject I should have addressed years ago, when I first got into public speaking, and I owe a very special individual for prompting me about it in a late night text chat.
I am dyslexic.
Everyone who knows I write professionally has expressed surprise at that revelation. Because they see the printed page, the final unblemished product, not the often-agonizing process.
I feel this is worth discussing and truly wish I’d thought to reveal my struggle on my own. I’ve had so many opportunities over the years to share this to appropriate audiences and it just flat never occurred to me. Probably because I developed coping mechanisms, and that’s why I’m here today. First, some background.
I still feel guilty over a first grade classroom incident. I was an avid reader even then, eagerly absorbing material above my age thanks to a proactive mom. At the time I didn’t struggle with dyslexia; perhaps the material was too simple or my condition just worsened over time. So six-year-old me felt perfectly within his rights rudely correcting a classmate who read the word ‘saw’ as ‘was’.
The teacher admonished me, and Karma piled on later.
I think it was junior high where I initially noticed a problem, mainly with writing. Lowercase Ds became Gs and vice versa. Lowercase Bs became Ps, etc. Drove me nuts, because I was mostly writing in pen.
With time and practice this particular letter switching diminished… only to be replaced later by full-bore alphanumeric gymnastics. It may be possible that a few serious head injuries aggravated my condition. But now I find dyslexia interferes with writing and reading, often to the point where I make major errors not just in fiction writing but in my day job.
The person who prompted this article asked me about coping mechanisms, and that’s when I realized I’ve failed a great many people over the years. So I’m here now to atone. Following are my tools; make sure to check out the links.
I find that stress aggravates the condition. When I get in a hurry, especially under pressure, the words dance madly and the mistakes mount. So, breathe. Consider anti-anxiety techniques and even medications. I take HTP.Calm, an OTC compound, and it really helps.
Double Spaces after Punctuation
Yeah, it’s a controversial subject. But I find that two spaces after each punctuation mark helps me tremendously in proofreading. And it’s not a big deal, anyway: editors have consistently told me they don’t care, and a simple search+replace after completion can easily revert your work to single spaces.
Taking a Break
If you find yourself making many mistakes, maybe the timing is bad. Maybe you need to go beyond basic de-stressing and change your environment. Do something else. Or do nothing at all for a while.
Applying the Brakes
Like I said before, rushing aggravates things. So I’ve slowed my roll, and since I now make fewer errors as a result, I think my overall writing time has benefitted.
Review your Work
Don’t just write and fire: take time to methodically go through the text after completion, especially emails. Let it rest for a while if you can, and revisit with fresh eyes.
Edit: Bob Duffy brings up a valuable point I overlooked: proofreading aloud can help you catch mistakes that reading silently may not expose.
Asking for Help
This may be the hardest of all, for many. Dyslexia can be an embarrassing thing to admit, especially after we’ve been ridiculed for the results. But I’m here to tell you that asking for proofreading help can be invaluable. So, swallow your pride. Develop a proofreading squad.
Seems like a no-brainer, but you may be amazed how many people neglect this tool. One drawback is that spellcheck doesn’t always grasp context, but I’ll refer you back to Asking for Help in that case.
I haven’t revealed anything earth-shattering here, but hopefully having this list handy can help at least a few. Just writing it out helped me. 😉