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Craft | Youth

Not enough books are dedicated to the young writer, the teenager churning out reams of work trying to hone and master his craft. Youth is a difficult time in every aspect and anyone who says high-school was the best time of his life is kidding himself.

But I think I have something valuable to share with a struggling soul who may not be getting support anywhere else in his life. It takes confidence to write and I’ve seen dreams and hopes squashed by a system that doesn’t work.

I have met many people more capable at mathematics than they believed who still fear the subject entirely because k-12 emphasized memorization over conceptual understanding. It’s a struggle I faced myself. While I was acing my collegiate mathematics class I was failing high school physics. I will admit my ACT score revealed an extreme knack for science. But you wouldn’t know it if all you had to rely on were grades. I’ve heard enough similar stories to be convinced too many people believe they can’t handle something they actually have a talent for.

Why was I struggling so much? Not one, not two, but five learning disabilities often kept my scores below my potential. As I’ve said before, my brain isn’t exactly normal. But then that might be useful for a writer.

When I was child I was diagnosed with – deep breath – Linear Processing Deficit, Dyslexia, Short Term Memory Deficit, and Motor Skills Deficit. And apart from finally learning how to throw a ball in the correct direction* (So long as I use my left hand) the remaining three are still with me, as well as ADHD which wasn’t a diagnosis when I was young.

The first simply means I am a nonlinear thinker. Not very helpful in school but otherwise that’s really an advantage, particularly when writing a complex series. So what if I write out of order, it all ties together eventually. Short term memory... well who notices these days, and really I do so much rereading my writing soon hits long-term and I’m golden.

My ADHD can be problematic. I have my methods for getting around it but truly if you want a good explanation of how to cope with it as a writer I recommend reading “Word Work” by Bruce Holland Rodgers. I’m convinced most “disorders” have benefits, or contribute to a different way of looking at the world, so if you are a fellow inattentive soul I recommend finding your strengths and sticking with them.

Dyslexia though... now that one is a bastard. While it is connected to a different kind of visual thinking (See my biography) sometimes typing the wrong word; buggering up the their, there and they’re - despite knowing the difference, and failing to notice minor punctuation errors drives me batty.

It’s a case of the good with the bad I suppose. It can be embarrassing. I’ve "fowled" up many an email... or not... that would mean I’ve accosted my computer with birds and we all know I love mine too much for that. Facebook is a great source for typos and while I read, reread, and read again, nothing helps when your mind fills in the gaps automatically and puts the missing word exactly where it should be.

Recently a friend offered me comfort that dyslexics are not alone in this challenge. Most people require at least a copy editor for a truly professional document because catching ones own mistakes is hard for everyone.

But for some people the number of mistakes is disproportionate to their skill as a writer. Sure I can string a sentence together, so long as you can figure out where the period goes. I’m better than I used to be, but ultimately it’s biological and all I can do is my best.

So to all who may be struggling in school. It’s possible your grades don’t reflect your skill. Don’t give up, don’t lose hope, there is life after High School. And it really does get better as you get older.

Let me explain.

My freshman year of high school was spent in central Maine. And while I didn’t particularly like the town, the school was the best I ever encountered before college. I did well in my English classes because it was understood I was not to be marked down for punctuation.

We moved back to California when I was a sophomore and despite being tested twice before, they threw out the results and ignored Maine’s accommodations. Ultimately my English teacher was told off by my parents in a way only the fiercest could do. But up to that point I struggled to maintain a decent grade until I simply left high school at 15/16 and went to college instead. (When I was finally diagnosed with ADHD)

I was the person the entire class was relieved to see return from the dentist because the teacher wouldn’t let them move on until someone understood a slip of Shakespeare and they were all counting on me for resolution. I wasn’t popular, but I was useful.

Fortunately my parents, one a mathematician/writer the other a saint/writer kept my soul afloat and my dream alive as I wrote reams of stories at home, ever practicing and reaching towards my goals. They had a much more powerful influence than any teacher could and encouraged me where the system failed to recognize a capable writer because periods and capitals counted more than content.

Writing is hard enough when you are young. In your heart you know what you are producing is not publishable by any means. (For most) Inexperienced writers often find themselves copying others’ styles and stories without meaning to. But imitation is merely part of the process. It takes years of practice to find your own voice, method and message. What you do not need is to be discouraged by grades.

Thus I say to you young authors. Keep writing. Keep copying. Eventually you will break through. Do not be discouraged by drafts and drafts of work that seem to go no where. Even when you have reached your potential you may still need, as Anne Lamott says, to write a really shitty first draft. I usually need four or five false starts before I even have the characters pegged. It’s all part of the process. And step one is to ignore all the obstacles and go for it.

Don’t let anyone hold you down. Don’t let your dreams wither. Writing is not an occupation to get into for the money. It is an art and it is within you and it will torture you until you obey and put your fingers to the keyboard. Eventually you may just soar.

Think of it as the ultimate revenge against anyone who told you what you couldn’t do. Eventually you may forget the names of everyone who tried to stand in your way. You won’t care about anyone else's opinion but those you value. But experience is key, so do us both a huge favour:

Keep writing.

*Here’s a hint for getting through high school gym class if you, like me, can’t launch a volleyball to save your life. Don’t be cowered by the inevitable. Some highly coordinated student will no doubt get mad at you. Ask him for his help. You would be surprised how far that goes towards getting along and who knows, maybe you will learn how to lob the ball over the net.


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