I never read much as a child. In fact, as a very young kid, I remember having problems physically reading out loud – trying it would make my breathing go all weird. Maybe it was an anxiety thing, similar to a stammer, I don’t know, but I’d have to stop after each word – each and every single word – and gulp down a breath before I could try the next. That was when I was first learning to read and, as you can probably guess, wasn’t a positive experience.
Around that time, I remember being at a meeting between my teacher and my mother. They were discussing problems I was having with learning to write – my handwriting being unreadable, spelling being way off, and a bunch of my letters muddled, backwards, or in the wrong order.
As an adult looking back at that memory, I shake my head and wonder how on earth it didn’t ring alarm bells signalling something was wrong. But, well, either the alarms didn’t go off or no one was listening.
I was almost twenty when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Huzzah! Suddenly, everything made sense, even if it was a bit late to save my university career.
In the intervening years between my early school experiences and my later ones, I fell in love with books. Or, at least, the idea of books.
I had started collecting books that seemed really interesting and made a list of books I wanted to write but, while I was writing a little (mostly emo poetry and short stuff that should never and will never see the light of day), I was intimidated by anything over three pages and didn’t actually try and read any of the books I acquired.
Actually, I was so clueless about which books were age appropriate and what might suit me that the ones I did have – picked out of a box at a jumble sale based completely on the covers and how cheap they were – really only worked as pretty things to look at and collect. I’d bought huge, dense tomes that most adults would struggle with and had no idea what genres I liked or even what a genre really was.
It’s not the beginning you would expect from someone who now writes professionally and reads roughly fifty books a year, right?
Life has a weird way of sorting things out.
So, I got there. Eventually. I obviously learned to read and developed writing skills and ways to work around my dyslexia. I fell in love with books properly, finally figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t and why.
But, here’s the thing – my big secret: I still get intimidated by books, sometimes. Mostly novels.
Hand me a big, chunky book – even one by an author I know or based on a premise I’m interested in – and I’ll hesitate.
Some of the books I consume are on audio. Some are children’s books, or YA – which, by the way, there is zero shame in. I read them for the ideas and the way they’re expressed, not because there’s anything dumb about reading things pitched at way below your age group. A good book is a good book. Period.
But anyway, I read short books of all sorts and a lot of fanfiction. That’s my comfort zone.
Yes, I read novels too. Of course I do. I write novels, for goodness sake.
That doesn’t change the fact that the hesitation exists as I prepare to take a step outside my comfort zone. I tell myself it’s silly and think back to all the novels I’ve physically read so far, but a small, childish part of myself asks if I still remember how or if I’ll struggle with the words.
Why am I admitting to all this? I guess maybe to get it off my chest, but also to try and open a discussion. We shouldn’t be afraid of admitting to our pasts or current weaknesses.
Also, I really, really want to emphasize one point to parents, teachers, and caregivers of children everywhere: encourage your kids to love books. Their lives will be better for it and they’ll thank you in the long run. Don’t give up on them if they have problems. Please, dear god, do not assume they’re dumb and it’s beyond them.
Anyone else reading this who wants to write but feels like they’re not educated enough or don’t have the skills: take heart, there’s still time. Skills can be learnt at any age.
I offer my experience as proof.