Saturday, August 8, 2009

Being an Illiterate Author

This weekend I have been attending the Willamette Writers Confrence. Obviously, I am having a fabulous time. There is something inharently entertaining about hanging out with 900 writers. When you put that many story tellers in the same room it really is magical. In many ways I feel like I belong there. I recently finished writing a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set at a high school summer camp - so clearly my future as a best selling author is right around the corner. Basically all the other confrence attendies are just fighting over who gets to sit next to me at meals so that they can all clame they knew me when.

But something that the legendary Chelsea Cain said tonight made me realize how different I am from most people that call themselves writers. That difference is of course that I don't know how to read. Chelsea was the keynote speaker at tonights dinner. As she talked about the path she took to come to literary fame and fortune, she mensioned that she used to hide Nancy Drew books under her desk at school and read while her teachers attempted to explain long division. The body language of the other people at my table lead me to believe this was a fairly common activity for would be writers to do.

I have never read a book during a long division lesson. Partly because I liked long division as a child, but more notabley because I didn't know how to read. I do know how to read now, and have even been known to read books from time to time, but I never read anything else. And I still occationally say to people "I don't read" as an explanation for why I'm unable to recongize words when they cross my path.

Somehow my late onset literacy has enabled me to pass the threshold of seeing words. If letters randomly appear in front of me, it doesn't even cross my mind to decode the words they represent. I never read signs - which may be why I get lost so easily when driving. I never read the writing on the screne during TV comercials. I never read words on T-shirts, or billboards. And I have never read an entire news paper in my life. Most of the people at the confrence became fans of Chelsea Cain long before she started getting paid millions of dollars to write thrillers, because she wrote a collomn in the Oregonian. I have never read the Oregonian, even though I've lived in Oregon my whole life. So I hadn't even heard of Chelsa Cain until she started getting notariaty as Oregon's most recent block busting author.

The funniest thing is that I honestly believe the number one reason why I write is because I can't read. When I was a kid I was constantly making up stories. Why? Because I couldn't read them. If I'd had the luxury of simply curling up with the fiction derived by some clever adult, I probably would have been much less imaginative. But I had know idea what was written in any of those books, so the only option available to me was to make up my own. The first time I sat down and attempted to write a novel, I was sixteen. I didn't learn how to spell my middle name until I was seventeen. Clearly my desire to write wasn't thwarted by my inability to read.

I guess I'm just continuing to not fit in boxes. My biggest piece of advice to anyone with a learning disability is to accept your ability to think outside the box - cause it really doesn't matter how hard you try, you're never going to find your way inside the box. So here I am, the bell of the writing ball. I have lots of writing friends and feel a natural connection to every author I meet, but I don't belong in their box either. I may be a writer - but I'm still not a reader. I'm just an illiterate author. Fortunately, I'm not entirely alone in this world. Agetha Christy, F. Scott Fitchgerald, and Hans Christian Anderson were all dyslexic too. Sometimes thinking outside the box can be a very good thing.


Stephanie Faris said...

What an inspiring story. I think many of us take for granted our ability to read. But to overcome that obstacle AND decide to write...that just shows a determination I think we all should have.

Anonymous said...

I've known you from the beginning, and I never really thought about all of the everyday stuff you never read. You are continually full of surprises and insights. I eagerly await your years of writing from outside the box. Mom

Blythe said...

Kate, I love this!