Monday, 14 September 2020

Am I getting worse? Or, is everyone else getting better? Or BOTH? A pre-published writer’s battle with self-confidence & imposter syndrome.

I love writing. I write most days, and when I’m not writing – I’m thinking about writing; mulling over stories in my mine – practising dialogue by talking to myself, observing life – soaking everything up as you never know what will one day be useful. 

Most of the time I’m an optimist – always thinking my writing is improving – celebrating every little achievement – and telling myself that if I keep going – keeping improving that with a bit of luck one day I’ll get published. But then occasionally my optimism is pushed aside by my darker pessimistic side. The one that tells me all is hopeless. That is highly competitive – and with my extra difficulties with dyslexia that I’ll never make it. 

Like many pre-published writers these bouts of lost-confidence and diminishing hope rears its head after competition long-lists have been announced – and I didn’t make the cut. What makes long-listing announcement bad for me is that when I was starting out – my hit rate was good. At one time I had made the long-list/short-list or won every competition I had submitted too. Now a few years later – after honing my craft with courses and writing academies, my hit rate has dwindled. So after every competition long-list I miss - my pessimistic size sizes control – and I spiral, asking myself questions… 

  • Am I getting worse?
  • Is everyone else getting better?
  •  Is my rougher first draft MS better than my polished ones?
  • Is my writing gone out of style?
  • Has my dyslexia gotten worse?
  • Is it yet another spectacular bad case of unfortunate timing?
  • That I’m an imposter – as one of the only members of the SCBWI Oxford Critique group I was in that is still activity writing and not be published or agented - that I’m not good enough to be here, 

In the past I’ve tried ignoring my pessimistic side – but it never works, instead it sits festering and feeding on my hope. So now I know I have to indulge it. Let it play its course. Lick my wounds, re-galvanise myself and carry on. 

At this point, my optimism bounces back in reassuring me that… 

  • I’m getting better
  • That more people are writing now – and getting support from MA’s, Manuscript appraisal schemes and writing academies.
  • That my dyslexia hasn’t got worse, it’s improving but there is just more competition out there.
  • That Time isn’t a thing I can control – and Time trips everybody up at one point or another.
  • As for imposter syndrome - I have to remind myself that many of my published friends having been writing far longer than me – and were writing much longer than I have been before landing a contract.
And so I pick myself up and carry on. After all I love writing and to quote someone far wiser than me...

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Debunking Dyslexia Myths

Recently when discussing with other writers about the difficulties of pursuit of publication, and me mentioning my dyslexia, as being an additional barrier I have been told, ‘but that’s what spellcheck is for’, like it is a magic cure. This is just one myth about dyslexia, that really is exactly that- a myth. Just as a wheelchair isn’t a cure for someone who can’t walk, spellcheck isn’t a cure for dyslexia. So I thought I’d do a little dyslexia myth busting post.

Myth One – Spellcheck cures all Dyslexia Ills….

Gosh I so wish this was true. I know a lot of people believe it to be true. But spell check is just a tool, one that can help minimise dyslexia associated spelling and grammar issues, but it can also be as much as a hindrance as a help.

Spellcheck gets it wrong!

Spellcheck often helpfully corrects my spelling as I type. Oh this would be great, I mean properly great if it worked. But unfortunately my spelling is so bad, that I’m often nowhere near what the correct spelling should be and so Spellcheck picks a totally wrong word to replace it with. This is bad because the wrong word is correctly spelt – BUT IT IS THE WRONG WORD. Why, you may ask is this a problem? Well, as it is now no-longer a miss-spelt word, it no longer has a red-squiggly line underneath – so I can’t tell it’s a wrong word and find out the correct spelling to put it right. This means that I sometimes have some hilarious incorrect but correctly spelt words in my manuscript like…

Also, to further illustrate my point, here’s a poem by Norman Vandal which demonstrates my point much better than I can ever do...

Spellcheck is a Diva!

Oh yes, Spellcheck is the equivalent of a diva movie star who, if thing aren’t going their way, storms off set to their trailer and refuses to work. Seriously it is true. I once was 20,000 words through a 80,000 word manuscript when this a message came up from spellcheck saying that due to there being too many mistakes, it was turning its self-off. But unfortunately I didn’t realise that this wasn’t just an idol threat. And it did – it had a diva strop and stopped working. Resulting in the first 20k of my MS being readable and the other 60K being in such a dyslexic redden form of English no one could read it. I actually thought this was a phenomenon unique to me, but recently another published best-selling author tweeted the same error message. Which I have to say meant I felt better - but further demonstrates my point, that Spellcheck is a diva.

And don’t get me started on Autocorrect!

Myth Two - There a loads of Dyslexic Children’s Authors 

Loads of people tell me this and they can then probably name two – three at most. According to the British Dyslexia Association 10% of the British population is dyslexic. And according to world statics is more like 16% globally. Dyslexia doesn’t discriminate – that is 10-16% of the world wide population no matter of class, culture or colour. So I have created a list of dyslexic published children’s authors on twitter and I have 6 members – six authors out of the hundreds of the published authors that I know personally or follow on twitter and Facebook – only 6 of them I know to be dyslexic. I’m sure there are more, but I am pretty sure that it is nowhere near 10 -16% of all the published authors working currently.

Myth Three Dyslexia  isn’t Barrier to Publication

'...and about the spelling and grammar...'

Every piece of feedback I have from critique groups to from editors and agents – ALWAYS mentions my dyslexic issues. Sometimes everything is really positive BUT the Spelling and Grammar – and it is really difficult to not wonder if that is the reason why the answer isn’t a yes.

Earlier on in the year I entered a competition, which was judged by a panel of four judges. All four liked my manuscript and said yes to giving it a place it on the longlist. In fact it was actually one of the judge’s favourite submissions. However one of the adult judges said a load of glowing positive AS GOOD AS IT GETS feedback. But then was unprofessional and scathing about my spelling and grammar. And so when I didn’t make the long-list it is difficult to not think that I was marked down on the point system for my spelling. 

This is made particularly painful as the competition especially asked – in a whole tick-box special section –if you have any disabilities and I said yes and explained about my severe dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. So if you are going to actually promote yourself as a competition that encourages neuro-diverse authors to submit, then maybe you should consider not being –  really unpleasant about their issues in feedback and also, not mark them down for their issues.

Don't forget the Cover Letter

Of course you may get your MS as dyslexia free as humanly (well - non-professionally copy edited) possible. But then there is the COVER LETTER. Oh yes, I get people to check that too, but then that just the generic copy. I then personalise it or adapt it for every submission. There is only so much goodwill or time others can devote to correcting my spelling. I can’t tell you how many times I have checked-re-checked- and recheck my over letter before hitting send – only to find an error I hadn’t spotted after it’s gone.

Myth Four – It’s Easy to get your Dyslexia-isums removed from your Manuscript

Getting rid of the  Dyslexia-isums

I try really hard to eliminate all my Dyslexia-isums by…
  1. Utilising Spell Check -[ Insert laughter here ]
  2. Reading through and marking anything I can spot up on a print out and then correcting in the document. – ALTHOUGH – my tracking when reading is poor – due to dyslexia – and tracking from one document to another is even worse, so often when correcting mistakes, I make more. 
  3. My husband reads through everything I write and dose a copy edit –correcting my wobbly spelling and haphazard grammar.
  4. My lovely critique group buddies, correct my spelling and grammar on my submission which I then input into the document – but with my tracking issues I often as said before input shiny new errors!
  5. I am lucky to have some lovely friends who do a beat reads – who correct my issues as they read. 

And after all that I still have spelling issues in the manuscript

Just pay a copy-editor

I write YA – that between 50 -80 THOUSAND WORDS. You have a look at the cost of a copy-editor of a book that size, and I’ll let you work out the barrier!

Myth Five- If you Read you’ll be good at Spelling and Grammar

Oh you would think so right? But NOPE.

Dyslexia is an issue with the way the brain processes information – also sometimes it can be about how the eye work too. The issue is that you can read loads, but as what you see or what your brain processes isn’t the correct spelling (or even grammar as you can change where all the punctuation marks and stuff goes), so you don’t build up a database in your mind of spellings – and if you did that’d probably be spelt wrong.

Ok you are right dyslexia doesn’t officially affect grammar – but if at school in say year 9 and you’re still on Biff and Chip books, or in my case Roger Red Hat and Ladybird Peter and Jane books, you kind of miss out on all of the grammar lessons.

Oh but you can just learn grammar now – believe me I’m trying and I’m infinitely better at it that I was – but I’m learning form feedback form my critique group and after a timely lesson form my friend, neighbour who happened to be an editor – thanks Lou John. But I keep looking for an adult’s dyslexia friendly grammar course and can’t find anything suitable. Plus of course there’s the ££££ issue again.

Myth Six- Dyslexia ONLY affects your writing and reading it doesn’t impact everyday life

Ok, again – I so wish this were true. And actually I’m going to cheat it a bit here as I’m going to include my other Dys’s - dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

  • EVERYDAY - I walk into doors as I read the ‘PUSH’ signs on the other side of glass doors as if it’s on this side.
  • I often go out with my clothes on back to front/inside out or buttoned up wrong. All I can say is that I’m very glad I no longer have to worry about wearing a tie - the knot in my school one lasted 5 years.
  • I also have dyscalculia – DYSLEXIA WITH NUMBERS – oh yes; I can’t dial a phone number as I get it wrong multiple times. And don’t get me started on credit/debit card PIN codes – nightmare.
  • I have a dreadful short term memory – I often ask my husband if he wants a cup of tea multiple times in ten minutes and forget the answer or just forget to make it. 
  • I am SOOO clumsy – I fall down stairs – I fall up stairs - I even fall over thin air. I walk into things. I bump my head. I’m really an accident looking for something to happen. 
  • I say words wrong all the time. Why – because I have learnt them by reading them – and my brain doesn’t always see them the way they are - (the whole letters moving thing) – so I pronounce them wrong. Like Neapolitan Ice cream - that I thought was Napoleon – which caused quite a bit of embarrassment when I asked a guest if they wanted some Napoleon ice-cream with their desert (aged 31!) 

So the myth busting is over (promise), and I would like to quickly say, that this isn’t a whinging post but one to highlight some of the extra hurdles that people with dyslexia face when writing with the dream of publication. I am constantly looking for new ways, tools and coping mechanism trying to minimise the impact of my dyslexia on my writing, but it tends to have a time and cost impact, which add yet another hurdle – one that many other dyslexic writers can’t circumnavigate. One of my dreams - other than getting published and the book selling of course - is that if/when that happens, I will endeavour to set up a competition or fund for dyslexic authors where the prize is for their submission package to be professionally copy-sited – to increase their chance of not- being dismissed on the slushpile.

Lastly if you are an editor or agent reading this -PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t let this scare you away.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Black Lives Matter – Supporting in my own Subtle Way

So I have on my to-do-list for this week – write blog post – followed by a load of blog topics.

  • People misconceptions about dyslexia – mostly the view that it can remedy by spellcheck (bless!)
  • Keeping productive during chaos
  • Writing research tips.

And so the list goes on. But none of them seem appropriate at the moment. In fact with corona virus and the Black Lives Market, all of my topics seem well – unimportant –frivolous even. So instead I’m going to talk about my Little Free Market that I mentioned in my last blog post – which was all about how my village have used stories and generosity to raise community cheer.

So in my last post, I boosted about how my village was so supportive of each other in the current corona virus predicament, using the local Facebook group to communicate any Little Acts of Kindness, and how the how community was coming together. However recently a less pleasant side of the same community has raised its head. On the same Facebook group – any mention of Black Lives Matter, discussion or even just talking about Kneeling for BLM, has been deleted or comments muted. The admin, has stated it because ‘the group is for local matters NOT national or International’, forgetting that our community is multicultural, and that BLM is as local a matter as international.

This revelation, of the racism and ignorance that is ingrained in my community, really un-settled me, but what was worse, was that the chance to talk and discuss and promote learning was silenced. The fact that there are people who want to change, but the community FB page has made that so much harder. So I got to thinking, I already have The Little Free Market, so why not use that to provide to the more social conscious members of the community resources to help them learn.

To back track a little – The Little Free Market – my family set up at the start of lockdown. We made an old fashioned market stall out of an old pallet and put it on our driveway. On it was, books, games, craft kits, seedlings and other things that may make peoples time in isolation easier. All free to whoever wanted it. Pretty soon, people were donating things, and it took on a life of its own. People actually began planning their hour walks to pass the stall to pick up books.

starting to collect books.

So, my plan was simple, fill the stall with books by black authors and illustrators, everything form picture books to adults. Plus games, and puzzles, for children featuring black charters, and creating craft/activity packs.

I started to collect books, firstly seeing what books we had around the house that we were happy to donate. Then I managed to buy some second-hand collections off of Facebook market place. A few people have also let me know they have sent some donations via post –which I’m eagerly waiting for. But also approached the brilliant Knights Off, who passed me to Round Table Books, who have picked out a selection of books to the budget I gave them, that are also currently in transit. UPDATE - HAS JUST ARRIVED!

Exciting delivery for Round Table!

I started to think about the activity packs, so I looked at Empathy Lab UK, and printed out some of their free family activity sheets, and then found some BLM free colouring resources which I’ve printed out. I’ve combined these with colouring sheets of black charters from popular kid’s movies, and added in a selection of paper people of different skin tones, and colourful papers so children can dress them up.

So now I’m just compiling everything, ready and hoping that the weather will change from the constant rain and thunder so I can actually put the Little Free Market out, and hopefully subtly make a difference (no matter how small). Even if it only reaches one person, or one family, then this endeavour will be a success. 

So when the weather cooperates, and the Little Free Market is out – I promise I’ll update you and let you know how it goes.