Amy, 2nd year Computer Science PhD, talks about dyslexia, fear, perfectionism and the relationship with writing.
Computer Science PhD, 2nd year
I opened up a new Word document around 30 minutes ago with the intent of writing a quick blog post about my relationship with writing. The thing is, I don’t know what words to write. In all honesty that is the story of my life when it comes to writing.
I have what you may call a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship with writing.
I have plenty of ideas of things that I want to write about, and I physically know how to write, but for some reason I can’t put the two things together. I struggle to turn my thoughts and ideas into a written piece of work, something that makes sense and gets my point across. This friction between my thoughts and getting them down onto paper has caused this dysfunctional relationship.
I realise that may seem strange seeing as I’m writing a blog, but it’s true. I hate writing.
I hate everything about it. I hate opening up a new document and staring at a blank page. I hate having to constantly delete what I’ve just written because it just doesn’t work (I even did it writing that sentence). I hate how hard it is to turn my thoughts into a sentence that makes sense. I hate having to try to figure out how to spell a word when spell check has no idea. I hate having to figure out a structure. I hate how stuttery my writing sounds, there is never any flow. I hate having to give my work to others to read. I hate having to reread my own work. I hate how I can sit for hours, days even, trying to write a piece of work and at the end of it only have a page of poorly constructed paragraphs to show for it. I hate that the writing I produce doesn’t show people the pain I went through to write it.
I didn’t always hate writing - when I was younger I used to love to write. I can remember at Primary School asking to stay in during play time so I could finish a story I was writing. I remember spending my holiday abroad writing stories in a little notepad I carried around with me. I even won a writing competition at school for a short story I wrote. Since reaching higher education my love for writing has done a 180° turn and become a hate for writing.
The thing is, no matter what I do I cannot escape the need to write. My final PhD thesis is an example of that - it will need to be around 80,000 words. That is a lot of writing. Plus, I will have to continually be writing throughout my research, writing emails, writing papers, writing notes, writing applications….
I have spent some time thinking about why I have this hatred towards writing and I think that there are 2 main things that are contributing to this dysfunctional relationship:
I was diagnosed with dyslexia in September 2016 aged 20. Dyslexia is a language-based learning difficulty which can cause problems with reading, writing, and spelling. In the report I received after my assessment, the assessor made comment on my difficulty in writing:
“Amy’s weaknesses are core features of Dyslexia and they have a substantial and long-term adverse effect upon the speed and efficiency with which she can perform the normal day to day activities of reading and writing and absorbing and recalling information.”
Having dyslexia does make writing challenging. I often find that I have to change a whole sentence because I just cannot figure out how to spell the word I want to use, even with the help of a spell checker. This then has an impact on my ability to create flow in my writing as I am constantly stopping and starting. I also notice that I struggle to formulate how to get my point across. For example, I know that for this paragraph I wanted to write about my issues with spelling and structure but actually producing the words on paper to do that has been a painful process, it doesn’t come easily at all.
I also find that I become anxious when showing my writing to other people. I lack confidence in my writing ability and worry that others will judge me harshly. The final piece of writing I produce may be below what is expected but people reading it do not see the hard work and agony that go into that to make it the best I possibly can.
There is no ‘magic cure’ for dyslexia, it is something that I am always going to have to deal with, and I’m ok with that. Over the years I have found different techniques and strategies that help me overcome these challenges, making things just that little bit easier, and I am sure I will continue to find way to make things easier in the years to come.
I believe that another reason for my current relationship with writing is fear.
I have a fear that I’m doing it wrong, and this fear has become debilitating. I have put an unrealistic expectation on myself to do everything perfectly first time. This has taken away my ability to just write. I should be able to write what is in my head, get it down on paper, and then edit it afterwards to improve it. But my fear of writing something wrong, having proof of imperfection, means that I can’t do that.
When I think about it no-one ever writes anything perfectly the first time, regardless of if they have dyslexia. No-one ever publishes their first attempt at writing something. No-one ever just writes an email and presses send without re-reading it. Why do I expect to be any different? I need to get comfortable with the idea of drafts and editing and accepting that my first attempt of writing will not be perfect but that I have time to make improvements.
My hope is that by writing this blog I am starting to give myself the space to be imperfect. This blog isn’t being marked, isn’t being judged, it has no impact on my PhD outcome – it is just a place to write. I hope that one day I can write an update to this post telling you all how I no longer hate writing and perhaps share tips I’ve found useful in helping me to address this dysfunctional relationship.