This guest post is by Leigh Stevens of whereapy.
If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things.
“Are you stupid? You sure look stupid. Everyone else in this room handles this level of work. If you can’t do simple conjugations you shouldn’t be in my classroom.”
That’s what you get when the middle school basketball coach is also your advanced language arts teacher. Much to my eternal frustration, I was that “stupid” kid. I am dyslexic with an auditory processing disorder, which means I don’t understand verbal instructions very well, but at the time, the school didn’t know that. As a first-grader in the early 80s I was placed in the special education classes: the “speds”. It didn’t help much that I came from a financially poor family, relative to my peers. And I was a girl. And blonde. There was just no escape from the stupid jokes.
I was inspired to write this post after reading a piece by the Blog Tyrant a few weeks ago. As far as marketing goes it’s a standard emotional headline tactic designed to pull you in. It’s a good post. Except that, at the time, it frustrated me in a big way, bringing back all the garbage I went through as a kid. So here’s my response.
A learning disability can hamper your blogging practice. Not so much functionally—there are people who can help you write cleaner prose. The real kicker is the emotional baggage created by years of verbal abuse, of people insisting that you’re not very bright. It’s hard to have confidence in your writing abilities when it was always assumed that you just weren’t smart enough to succeed.
My experience in school followed the same pattern, over and over. At the end of each school year, I would graduate from the special education reading class, and be placed in the advanced class for the beginning of the following year. Once my new teacher noticed that I couldn’t take verbal instruction, spell, or abstractly conjugate, I was sent back down to the special education class, so I could graduate again, be promoted again, and be rejected, again. Rinse, wash, repeat.
By third grade I had developed strategies to compensate for my dyslexia that made reading very easy for me: I memorized everything through pictures. I process visual and kinaesthetic information beautifully; it’s like when the blind develop greater acuity in their other senses, creating alternatives for making their way in the world. My brain created another way for me to learn, unique to me. Brilliant, right? Not according to my teachers.
Unlike more visible disabilities, atypical styles of learning don’t garner much sympathy or support. If I had a dollar for every time I was accused of “not living up to my potential,” I’d be rich; the ability to pass as almost “normal” can produce massive anxiety.
I hire a copy editor to clean up my posts, and while the ideas, connections, turns of phrase, overall structure and layout are mine, it still feels inauthentic. The fact that I need another person to help me when it comes to writing makes me struggle to feel complete ownership over the work that I create. And that can be difficult. But I suck it up and keep on trying, because that’s what needs to be done.
Tips for blogging with a learning disability
- Write with a copy editor. It may take some time to find a writer who understands you and with whom you can develop a “voice.” Learn how to collaborate to create a product you can be proud of.
- Strive for publishing only one or two good posts a week. Don’t get too aggressive with your posting schedule, especially when you’re just starting out. Putting too much pressure on yourself will only lead to frustration and burnout.
- Ignore all the advice on how to write a blog post in 20 minutes. Accept the fact that it may take you five hours to produce an imperfect 600-word post while an adept writer can whip something up over lunch.
- Ignore all the jingoistic advice that says “you can do it if you just try harder!!!” You can’t grow back a leg that’s been amputated—you need to learn to use the tools available to you to get where you want to go. The same thing applies to your brain: if you’re old enough to read this, you’ve already forged new pathways to circumvent the ones that weren’t working so well. If something feels good and works for you, stick with it, regardless of what everyone else is doing.
- Continue to read challenging blogs and try to participate in the discussion, knowing that your comments will likely be full of skipped words, switched letters and other indicators of how your brain works. The grammarians may complain, but that doesn’t mean that your contributions are any less important or interesting.
- Deal with your past and present emotional issues surrounding your learning disability. Rejection is a standard part of blogging for everyone: guest posts get turned down, comments in the forums get misinterpreted or misunderstood. When you have a learning disability you can expect to experience even more of this, and maybe even by people you respect and admire. A lot of smart people with learning disabilities respond to this by turning inward and developing a rugged and individualist persona, but still feel isolated and alone. Strangely enough, the experience of social rejection causes a 25% drop in IQ—an astonishing effect in a pernicious cycle that actually perpetuates “stupidity.” To counter this effect, I encourage you to keep participating: reach out to people, make meaningful contributions, even if you risk looking silly or being misunderstood. In the right context, it can be good to be vulnerable. Another way to cope with rejection is by practicing emotional resilience processes.
- Tell your readers that you have an issue on your About page (and tell them how they can help). You don’t have to write a long soppy story like me; you can just say, “Hey, I’m dyslexic. I’d appreciate it if you’d send me a message if you find a mistake on the blog. Thanks!”
One last note. Because Problogger has such an international audience, I feel comfortable mentioning that bloggers with processing disorders are a lot like bloggers for whom English is a second language. The stigma attached to grammatical and spelling mistakes in the blogging world is palpable, and if you’ve ever felt bashed for having less-than-perfect English, I want to let you know that you’re not alone! Kudos to everyone who blogs in a second language.
Your turn: Do you consider yourself to be a “‘real” writer? What kinds of limitations have you run across in your practice? How do you work past them? Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear what you have to say, no matter how you say it.
Leigh Stevens is a certified massage therapist, artist, humorist and co-founder of whereapy. Special thanks goes out to Heather Gaskill, social worker and copy editor extraordinaire.