I keep hearing that someone can’t be a good writer if they’re not a prolific reader and I’m going to tell you in one word why that blanket statement, like many blanket statements, is complete bullshit.
a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.
It makes me physically exhausted to try to decode the text in front of me. I’m not even trying to read in a different language. When I see letters, a lot of them look the same or switch places, and sometimes they do both! I have it with numbers as well. Any book that has pictures in it – thank you graphic novels – make it so much easier to follow the plot and gives my eyes and brain a rest. It has nothing to do with my intelligence, which got called into question more often than needed in grade school, and everything to do with the fact that the shapes letters take is hard for my brain to translate into anything usable.
Summer reading lists were the bane of my existence. Let’s not even get into the fact that forcing a kid to read, over their vacation, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Spelling tests we’re torture. Thank god for spell check is all I’m gonna say. Mom would help me study for them for – no joke – 2 full torturous hours. 20 words, 2 hours of hell, every week. When we had the spelling final I was looking at about 8 hours of memorizing what the word looked like as a picture in my mind rather than trying to sound it out, because the word “job” sounds like it should be spelled as “gob”, so $%^& that noise. Silent letters and the “ei/ie” conundrum can go fuck themselves.
I learned how to tell stories faster than how to write them because that’s all we did in our house was tell stories, about our experiences, about our memories, about other people we knew or met or wanted to avoid. Sometimes my parents made up stories for me or read to me so that my mind was free to imagine what was going on instead of struggling to make sense of the text vomit that was “The Hobbit” or “The Neverending Story.” When I hear people say, nose in air, “Read a book without pictures!” I want to beat them to death with War & Peace, the unabridged hard cover edition. They’ll be picking Dewey decimals out of their teeth for weeks.
I learned how to tell stories by watching movies, listening to music, playing with my toys, inventing little scenarios and just letting my imagination run away with itself. The cartoons that I was so in love with fueled that creative spark and because they spoke to me instead of forced me to read something, I was able to relate and understand.
I told stories through different mediums as well. Graphic novel panels, comic strips, paintings, singing, acting, dancing, short film writing, word of mouth, stand up comedy, mimicry, voice acting, all of these avenues I used at one point or another to tell a story. It’s not just the written word that can do this.
When I discovered the Dyslexie font and installed it on my Instapaper app I almost cried. I was able to read like everyone else! Fast, comprehending, effortless. It was amazing. I’m still learning how to get that on every digital device I own. I upgraded to the iPhone 5s and lost my font for instapaper, for now. This article by the Huffington post will give you an idea of what I see when my brain tries to read. Granted, road signs and crap like that are pretty clear for me, but I got lucky. The severity runs the gamut.
I managed to get an imagination that is extremely powerful, and that can be a double-edged sword. This has carried me through a lot of my writing so what I lacked in technical skill I made up for in creativity. Luckily, the technical aspects can be taught. It might have been truer in the past that reading was the best way to become a good writer, and yes there is a kernel of truth in there as well, but it seemed to me that stating the sole source of good writing comes from good reading habits was a bit shortsighted and exclusionary as well. Just because you can write well doesn’t mean what you write is interesting.
That’s why I call myself a storyteller rather than a writer.