We all have challenges to our writing. In today’s world we all live busy, hectic lives and sometimes it can feel impossible to finish writing what we started. But what about those of us who face extra obstacles or challenges that can make writing a page feel like writing War and Peace?
Exploring diversity and the need for equal opportunities in today’s world, I have interviewed 10 writers with mental health issues, disabilities or special learning needs. Each sharing their own unique stories, they have offered up some advice for other writers. Here’s what they all had to say.
1) ‘Be honest about what you can and can’t do’
– Rachael Howard, writer with ME
‘I am pretty well housebound, so the internet is my lifeline. My main problem is lack of mobility and my condition is unpredictable, I can book a trip then have to cancel the morning of travelling because of the pain. This makes me appear unreliable.”
‘I have to be honest about what I can and can’t do. I have had meetings and been mentored via skype and deadlines have been shifted for me. It is a good judge of how the person is if they are prepared to be flexible.’
‘I have worked with two production companies successfully. In each case there are members of the company who are also disabled. They get my issues and work around them with me. I have learned to ask for help. Not easy to do.’
TOP TIP: Don’t be afraid to be honest. Let people know what you can and can’t do. If they run a mile they are not someone you would want to work with. Use the internet. Most people will happily Facetime or Skype.
2) ‘Use software and ask others for help’
– Rachael’s daughter, writer with Autism, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia (Rachael’s daughter was happy to be included anonymously)
‘It is even more tricky for my daughter, she cannot interact with people at all unless she knows them well. She uses software to help with grammar and spelling or passes it to me regularly to read it. She uses online a lot for research. She can’t ask questions of people, but she can read what they write.’
TOP TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your various challenges. It will surprise you how much help is out there. Don’t apologise for what you can’t do. The industry needs to adapt to you.
3) ‘Use the speech function on your computer and audiobooks’
– Nigel Auchterlonie, writer with Dyslexia
In his own words, Nigel describes accepting that he wasn’t the brightest kid at school, despite thinking he should be achieving better grades. However, Nigel enjoyed a successful career working on Dandy comics and works to this day as a professional writer. Finally, in his thirties Nigel was diagnosed with Dyslexia.
Nigel says he finds writing much easier than reading. If you struggle reading your work back, Nigel advises using the speech function on your computer. Hearing the computer read the text aloud makes it clearer and guarantees an accurate reading. Similarly, rather than giving up on reading books, listen to audiobooks instead.
TOP TIP: Don’t let yourself be labelled as ‘bad’ at something. If you enjoy it, keep doing it. As Nigel proves, you just might make a very successful career out of it!
4) ‘Keep your mind busy and don’t delete anything’
– Bay VanMeter, writer with Depression and Anxiety
‘I write to keep my mind and body busy, and when I get in those dark days I get a darker more emotional style of writing that paints a picture for the reader.”
‘Don’t delete anything, keep writing and keep trying because one day you will look back and be grateful that you didn’t give up. It also helps to have something that is yours, something you can escape into.’
TOP TIP: Dealing with challenges can be dispiriting, which means you may make decisions you regret in the heat of the moment. So don’t delete anything! You will always be glad you didn’t give up.
5) ‘Do whatever it takes to get feeling positive again’
– Josh Merritt, scriptwriter with Asperger’s, Dyspraxia and Sleep Apnoea
‘I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and Dyspraxia when I was around 5. I also have Sleep Apnoea and lack of good sleep can severely affect my mood, stamina and memory. I get very stressed when I forget an idea.’
‘The autism helps with hyper-focus and obsessive attention-to-detail. But it can hold me back in terms of making me feel like I am not achieving emotions on the page. I can be extremely overwhelmed by self-analysis and judgement. Nit-picking every little thing.’
‘Listening to music and dancing gets me feeling positive, full of enthusiastic energy and inspiration. The brain starts to flow because of the flush of endorphins, I presume.’
TOP TIP: Forget about your challenges by finding what gets your endorphins flowing again. Then do it!
6) ‘Seek Help When You Need It’
– Anonymous, writer with Depression, Social Anxiety and Panic Attacks
‘I have Depression, social anxiety and have had panic attacks all my adult life. I am struggling to overcome it. It affects my writing because slowly over time my anxiety kills the creativity and confidence and I end up with nothing left.’
TOP TIP: ‘My advice for other writers if you struggle, seek help.’
7) ‘Just Keep Trucking’
– Shaquwanna Long, writer with Schizophrenia
‘I have Schizophrenia and it sucks. The medicine slowed my memory and creativity. Ideas used to just come to me but now I have to put forth effort and seek out ideas’.
‘Just keep trucking, don’t stop taking your meds but find what works for you and outsmart your meds. Music helps me greatly. Just know that you’re not alone that there are others out here who know your struggle and we are more than willing to give you a helping hand.’
TOP TIP: Remember you are not alone.
8) ‘Your disability can actually help you’
– Jemma Callander, writer with Dyslexia
Discovering her dyslexia as an English undergraduate, Jemma initially questioned her career aspirations. Then something interesting happened.
‘Over time, and with education, I realised that labelling my disability actually helped me to understand the way I think and, in turn, the way I write.’
‘As a journalist, I now take a Dictaphone with me wherever I go (or iPhone notes). Old school, but it helps me remember interviews I’ve conducted and acts as an oral notepad.’
TOP TIP: Use technology to help – even old school tech! Whatever works.
9) ‘Just keep going’
– Dal Cecil Runo, partially blind writer with Depression and Anxiety
‘I’m a partially blind writer (I can still see something, but use a magnifier glass or Roboreader.) I have a whole different process of how I go about drafting my novels. I outline in detail, and I try my best to write as clean as I can possibly produce at the time. I’m blind, I can’t afford to edit it later, so I edit as I go.’
‘How do I overcome this? I don’t. I simply try my best to keep going. I have terrible sleep patterns so I turned that into ‘Let’s write til I drop’ mechanism. It works.’
TOP TIP: What works for most people may not work for you, so find what will.
10) ‘Trust Yourself and your process’
– Nathan Hamilton, writer with PTSD and a perfectionist nature
‘I struggle with PTSD and a perfectionist spirit when it comes to my writing. Sometimes, I’m so determined to have everything mapped out logically and correctly that it takes the fun and creativity straight out.’
‘I overcome this by scheduling my time better and try to write as the scene hits my head. I carry a writer’s journal with me so I can keep the pure inspiration before I turn my analytical brain onto it. I jot down sound-bites and snippets, then edit after I’ve added it. Trust yourself, your heart and your creative process!’
TOP TIP: Keep a writer’s notebook handy, or use your phone. You don’t have to sit in front of your laptop all the time.
A huge thank you to all of the writers interviewed! There’s lots to learn here for ALL Bang2writers. Here’s some takeaways.
- Technology makes life easier, especially if you have extra challenges. Seems like writers are using much more than just a pen and paper these days. Tools like ‘on the go’ notes, audiobooks and the speech function on computers can also help assist the writing process.
- Honesty is key. By being honest with ourselves and others, we can also be more supportive of each other. After all, every single one of us has limitations, not just those with disabilities and mental health challenges.
- We should ALL embrace our differences.I hope the writers’ stories will encourage and inspire a more diverse range of creatives and help build a more understanding industry.
- We are not alone. Sometimes life can seem too much, so writing can too. By finding our community like Bang2writers and talking through our challenges, we can gain a renewed perspective or help.
- We just have to keep on keeping on. Enough said, really!
So please comment below with your own top tips and advice for others, I look forward to reading them!
BIO: Alice Hayden is a scriptwriting student at Bournemouth University, focusing on writing for Film and Television. Having just discovered that two of her scripts will be made in to animated promotional adverts for charities, she is also in the process of finishing her first novel. Follow her on insta as @alice_hayden.