Pursued By A Bear is our weekly advice column with playwright Adam Taylor. He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.
“Hi Adam! I’m an actor. I’ve been out of drama school for a few years, and while i’ve had some good bits of work, I haven’t gotten as much of or the kind of roles I would like. I’d really like to write my own work. But I’m also dyslexic. I feel like my ideas are really good, but when I’ve shown my scripts to people it’s like all they see is the typos. (some friends, right?) How can I get people to take me seriously as a writer, and do you have any tips for dyslexic writers?”
Every generation seems to have the same debate over the evolution of language, with those on one side of the fence vehemently insisting that we shouldn’t allow slang terms or improper grammar to pollute the Queen’s English and those on the other happy to let the mother tongue naturally morph into whatever it will.
I mostly fall into the second camp, although I feel an important distinction has to be made between practical evolution and what is simply poor English.
Most of the rules in grammar are there for a reason. Once you know and understand them you can quickly and easily derive the meaning of a collection of words.
I recently read the following comment on an internet forum;
Your mum sucks dick’s
To which the next poster had cheekily replied;
Proper use of the possessive apostrophe would have avoided this catastrophic misunderstanding.
Due to the abundance of poor grammar on the internet, and the concurrent abundance of picky people who enjoy belittling others, the term Grammar Police has become quite popular. I imagine those targeted by the Grammar Police feel a lot like me when I visit France and try to speak French to a native.
I’m sure I often speak in the wrong tense and assign objects the wrong gender (because why is a banana female?) but I generally get the right words in there somewhere.
If a foreign stranger in the street said to you “Time what was it?” you would perfectly reasonably jump to the conclusion they were asking you for the time. You could tell from the tone of voice that they’re asking a question and the word “time” is an easy clue.
A French person, in my experience, will refuse to do any such detective work, and will instead ask you to repeat yourself several times before switching to their most condescending English.
The Grammar Police are like the French people of the Youtube comments section.
In the above example the second poster knew exactly what the first one meant. He just refused to make the reasonable leap because he wanted to be a condescending and self-satisfied dick.
If someone is posting in an internet forum or on a comments section and uses less than perfect English, I’m happy to figure out the gist of what they’re saying and ignore the mistakes. I try not to judge people for using incorrect grammar in this context.
If someone is writing professionally for a blog or for the BBC website I find it more difficult to ignore their errors. I realise I’m inviting you to comb through my past posts and critique my grammar here, but to be honest that’s what I expect when I write these things.
I call myself a writer so I try to make sure that my writing is always clearly legible and grammatically correct to the best of my ability.
Correct grammar and spelling are important if I want people to understand what I’m saying. Even before they understand, they have to trust my voice and decide that I’m someone worth listening to.
If I wrote these posts in text speak and simply answered your question with; “Dnt worry, u dnt need gd English to right stuff,” you probably wouldn’t find it all that valuable. And you probably wouldn’t come back next week.
Don’t get me wrong, some rules can be broken when you want to create a certain effect. Writers will often completely subvert the rules when trying to convey a particular regional speech pattern or an accent. It’s also become common practice to use incorrect grammar to create the feeling of natural speech, as I do often in this blog.
But what if the writer is dyslexic?
We have to look at this from an entirely different perspective. Being dyslexic is not at all the same as being a tourist in France. I am essentially wasting an entire country’s time by knowingly turning up without the necessary skills to communicate with them. I then try to speak French, perfectly aware I’m not great at it, rather than just speaking English from the start.
I still believe the French are unnecessarily rude about it and I should get some points for trying, but I have to concede the problem is mostly of my own making.
Dyslexic people don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s nothing to do with laziness or a lack of will to learn. From my limited understanding (and forgive me if this is an oversimplification), it’s a fundamental issue with the way the brain processes written language. It can’t be cured by simply applying yourself or paying more attention in school.
You want to be a writer, if you could just study a bit harder and learn to spell everything perfectly I am a hundred percent sure you would have done so.
I also have no doubt there are fantastic writers out there who do amazing work and are dyslexic.
Does dyslexia make their point of view any less compelling? Of course not.
Does it make their characters less vivid or their plotlines less engrossing? Nope.
Should it be a barrier to becoming a playwright? In this day and age, definitely not.
Spelling and grammar errors don’t take away from the value of what a writer is saying.
However, they can make it more difficult to read. And when you’re a writer this can be a problem.
My first piece of advice (I know… only a thousand words in) is to get someone you trust implicitly, and who you know to have a strong command of language, to read your work first and help you correct any spelling and grammar errors.
As I’ve tried to outline above, it shouldn’t always matter whether your language is one hundred percent accurate or not, but unfortunately in certain circumstances people will hold it against you. Don’t let your chances suffer by assuming they’ll cut you slack. Some people won’t.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your mum, a friend, a co-worker or an old teacher, make sure you get someone to give your work a good once over. That way, when you’re showing it to other people down the line you’ll stand a better chance of getting past the Grammar Police.
My next piece of advice is to make sure whoever’s reading your work at any stage knows you are dyslexic.
This is nothing to be ashamed of. Kids get extra time in exams for it. You’re not asking to be granted any special favours or be given extra help, you just need your reader to understand what you want from them; feedback on the story rather than the spelling.
They need to read your work with a slightly more open mind so that they can become immersed in it just as they might with any other play. By the time outsiders are reading it you will have ideally already had your designated proofer go through and make the necessary edits, so there will be minimal errors anyway.
If you’re still not confident that people will see past the typos at this stage why not get some actors together and stage a reading? Actors will often give great feedback on a script without being as picky as agents or readers can sometimes be. You’ll also then have the opportunity to invite industry people to hear the play rather than reading it.
I hope none of the above comes across as condescending. Many non-dyslexic writers could benefit from most of the above advice too. We should all be getting feedback from a trusted person before sending our work out to the world. We should all be staging readings to hear our plays aloud and showcase them for others.
Being dyslexic just means these steps should be even more useful to you.
If you want to be a writer, dyslexia is undoubtedly an extra hurdle you’ll have to overcome. However, anyone who doesn’t take you seriously because of it isn’t worth listening to.
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