Friday, May 16, 2014

Writing / Righting with Dyslexia

You would think the last profession a person with dyslexia (seriously try and spell that word) would choose to be is a writer.

I was one of those kids who was called stupid and retarded because I couldn't grasp reading and I sure as hell couldn't spell, we won't even mention math. Growing up, there was a weekly spelling test in my 5th grade class. Every Thursday I would pretend I was sick, going as far as to heat my forehead with the hot bulb from the lamp and sprinkle my face with water, even making wretched sounds in the bathroom trying to throw up. My mom was no fool and never fell for my antics, and off to school I was sent.
I studied really hard for these tests, and I would fail miserably every week. Then there came the day when I was sent to the trailers. Those hot, airless, single-wide government buildings that the Special Ed teacher would come and pull me out of class—in front of all my snickering classmates—and then imprison me in this old smelling, cheaply-built room and try to teach me something I couldn't grasp. The labels were cruel and tore down what little self-esteem I had. I still fight the names today.

It wasn't until the end of the six grade that I actually finished a book—a short book, Ramona the Pest by Beverly Clearly. Eventually I read everything Beverly Clearly wrote. Things finally started to click in junior high, largely in part to my grandmother who was an English teacher and realized that I learned in pictures not with spelling or sounding things out. That's just a crazy practice.

Fast forward to today. I am still razed for my inability to spell. There are just some words that I will never spell right. The word dyslexia for one, and anything that has a lot of vowels, and just forget anything that starts with psy/phy.

How does this affect being a writer? Editing is hard, the bear of my existence, and I usually spend way more time on editing than a lot of my writers friends have to.  I will see the right word and it's the wrong word. Unless someone points it out, to me it is the right word. I miss little things with my posts on social media no matter how many times I reread them, and yet I'm a writer. I should know this stuff, right? Feeling stupid is sometimes a daily struggle. I know I'm not stupid, but when a mistake is found, I am once again that defeated little girl pretending she is sick to get out of taking a spelling test.  

It wasn't until I recognized my own child suffering that I starting researching dyslexia. For so long this was a thing that I was ashamed of. Well, that thinking had to change and change quick as my child was not going through the hell I did! I have mother bear tendencies. What I found was surprising and I wish I could tell all those who made fun of me the strengths that dyslexic people have.
They are creative types and think in pictures. This comes in handy being able to put myself in the shoes of my characters. It also helps with three dimensional problem solving. Dyslexics tend to be entrepreneurs as they want to control their environment. They also have cognitive and emotional strengths even though they have difficulty in decoding words.

When I got deep into the research and realized how many successful writers were dyslexics, it helped push me to take my writing seriously. The real problem was finding the courage to let people read my writing as they were going to pick it apart word by word and make fun of me. Not to mention opening myself up to REVIEWS! Luckily, I have connected with some wonderful critique partners who don't judge me, except me for my eccentricities, and for the creative visual writer that I am. Developing a tough skin over the years has helped too.

For more information about dyslexia, and a list of 25 famous Writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Agatha Christie—just to name a few—check out this site.  
Another great resource, and the book that changed my life, is the Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis. Here is also a fun youtube video if you are or know of someone struggling with dyslexia.

Tiffinie Helmer is a USA Today Bestselling Author with twelve books currently out with her thirteenth, BUSHWHACKED, due to be released on May 19th. To learn more about her and her books please visit her website at:


Love me some films, staff said...

Great blog, my turning point age was 9. I was not diagnosed until age 15. Good to know where in good company. Thank you!

Love me some films, staff said...

Oops We're I meant we're

Lynn Lovegreen said...

You go girl! Great example of how to work with your strengths and become who you are meant to be. :-)

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Love me some films, staff,

You cracked me up with the correction. THIS is exactly what I do all the time. Yes, we are in good company. Thank you for commenting.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Thank you, Lynn! We all come to this journey carrying different baggage and I love hearing everyone's story. I hope mine can inspire someone.

Lizzie Newell said...

This is my experience as well. I actually think this experience is the norm for top writer. We don't actually have dyslexia, which means inability to read. There's a book Linda Silverman which calls us visual-spatial learners. Traditional methods of teaching reading and writing don't work for use but we do other parts of reading and writing really well. She also calls us upside down learners. I think this style of thinking is why we can design book covers. I have a hunch that those who are good at spelling can't.

Lizzie Newell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tiffinie Helmer said...

Lizzie, I like upside down learners. I've been told I learn backwards too. Probably had something to do with how I write and see db's.

Cindy Stark said...

Aw, Tiff! I love you and all your eccentricities! You're an amazing person and an amazing writer.

Jae Awkins said...

Very nice son & grandson struggled with dyslexia. They both work to conquer it - and succeed most of the time now. Much praise to those who meet the challenge head on & follow their dreams!

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Thank you, Cindy, love you too. :)

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Jae, many kudos to your son and grandson!

DeNise Woodbury said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for the insight

Angelina Barbin said...

Thank you for sharing your experience, Tiffinie. Just a reminder that we are all different but you can succeed at your dreams if you really try.

dyslexiefont said...

Great post.
I had similar experiences growing up.
The original Dyslexie font is now free for home use
Download it for free at