'Dyslexics are going to need new excuses': How I became a travel writer despite my diagnosis
Words by Jonathan Barrett
I was eight or nine when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time I didn’t really know what that meant other than I had to go to sessions where I was made to draw 'lazy eights', an infinity sign basically, and that was somehow supposed to help me.
As the years went on, my dyslexia started to become more obvious to myself and others. My writing was illegible, spelling dire and I read at a speed not too dissimilar to that of a glacier flow.
My school report cards did not sugar coat my lack of ability. An English teacher I once had recommended what now seems like obvious advice to solve the reading issue: that I should read more. With that in mind my parents went out and bought me a large pile of books that just gathered dust. This may have been because I thought reading for fun was for adults, the Playstation was more enjoyable or that I just didn’t like reading.
It was only when Harry Potter came along that this changed. Harry and I were roughly the same age and he grew up through the books at roughly the same rate I did in the real world. I found that comforting and familiar (minus the magic and prophecy to do battle with wizard Hitler).
Harry Potter did wonders for diagnosing dyslexics. Many people wanted to read the books but found themselves struggling. To be fair, there are some daft words in there that even non-dyslexics would have struggled to pronounce.
After the Harry Potter books ran out and I was bored of re-reading them there was a lull in my reading that didn’t return until I was in the process of finishing university. I had discovered a love for travel writing. Travel writing still is my go-to genre but I have broadened my horizons and have been known to dabble in the occasional history, science or comedic self-help book. Fiction, thriller, and mystery don’t appeal but Ready Player One by Ernest Cline has been an exception.
After a few years of just reading about other people’s adventures, I started to jot down notes on the trips I was taking.
They started out as rough notes and lists, which evolved into journals and diaries and the dream of being a travel writer slowly started to form.
I was eventually convinced to start a blog which could lead me a little closer to being a cross between Levison Wood, Simon Reeve, David Attenborough and Michael Palin I wished to be.
One blog briefly existed for a few years but thankfully it was impossible to find so no one read it. When I created my new website, I borrowed some of my old blog posts to get the ball rolling and put them through Word first, which was one of the best decisions anyone has ever made, ever.
The number of red, blue and green lines that popped up under my sentences was horrific. Every post or email I write now is put through Word before it makes its way to its final bit of software.
I liked the idea of writing but it does scare me. You put a little bit of yourself out there to be judged and picked apart by people you know and those you don’t. It’s no secret that strangers on the internet, hidden and protected by their monitors, can be cruel – but would a bad comment early on dishearten and put me off it?
Which brings me back to my original question: can a dyslexic make it as a writer. I don’t see why not if Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Ford and Lewis Carol are anything to go by.
Yes, we may need a bit more attention from a decent editor (I pity the one that has to deal with me) but we are living in an age where there is more help than ever to help overcome most issues dyslexia can throw at us.
Technology has advanced where the spoken word can be written down for you as you speak; there is autocorrect and predictive text; audiobooks; software that can read text for you, and computers are more accessible than ever.
This is not to say I don’t think the skill and art of physical writing should be abandoned, but writing should be made appropriate to the individual. Dyslexics are going to need new excuses if our homework isn’t in on time.
Follow Jonathan's travel adventures at jonvoyage.co.uk.