One of the most often given pieces of advice for aspiring writers is that if you want to write well then you have to read widely. Professional writers also often talk about how being a writer is not simply about having good ideas. Some complain that they often get asked about where they get their ideas and not about the words, when words are to them the most vital part of what they do. Young writer are told the best way to learn to write is to write.

What, then, if you want to be a writer and you struggle to read, or you have good ideas but find it difficult to write them down? Does that mean that you will never be a good writer and should just give up?

We don’t think so, because people in the same situation have managed to become professional writers. They have written bestsellers, won awards and gained critical acclaim. You can read our List of Dyslexic Writers, and find out more detailed information about dyslexic writers with our Writer Profile pages.

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That does not mean that this traditional writing advice is totally wrong, just that we think it needs looking at in a different way. Words are important, writing is about more than ideas, it is about how those ideas are expressed in words. They are the medium by which most stories are told, in entirety or in part. Storytelling, using language creatively and purposefully, are essential skills for a writer. Reading is a good way to learn these skills, but you can also learn them by listening to audiobooks, songs, poetry, and spoken language in general, too.

The first storytellers did not make marks on paper, they drew pictures and used their voices. They passed on their stories in the form of spoken words, generation after generation. Words on a page are only a form of notation of our spoken language.

People who create and listen to music do not need to read or write sheet music to do so. Written language is sheet music for the mind. It allows us to share our spoken words, and inner dreams or nightmares more widely, for others to reproduce a version of them in their own minds like someone recreating a song at a piano. That is all written language is.

Needing or using assistance to make this sort of recording doesn’t in anyway lessen the creativity or potential of the original words and thoughts. Someone who created a beautiful song but who cannot turn it into marks on a page without help is not a lesser musician. They can do the part that really matters. Someone who can write or read sheet music but not create something new or as wonderful themselves has far less potential as a professional musician. It is the same for professional writers. It helps a lot if you can deal with written notation, too, but if you can’t that doesn’t mean you cannot achieve amazing things.

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Modern technology means we have computers with spellcheck, speech to text programs that can record our spoken words as text, and apps or Dictaphones to record ourselves speaking. There are many non-dyslexic people who can act as our scribes and editors. We don’t have to write down our own words, but we do need to practice using them so we can make and learn from mistakes. These allow us to find our own unique voices and ways of telling the stories that only we can tell.

So, read if you can, write if you can, but if you cannot then do not stop playing with words. Find a different way to experience language and to record what is inside of you, waiting to break free.

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