word craft


Writing with dysgraphia

It had to be in the nine­teen-eight­ies when for those of us who had not yet bought a com­put­er there were end­less debates about what was prefer­able, an IBM PC or  Apple’s Mac­in­tosh. For some­one like me who had only worked on man­u­al typewriters—and loved my Roy­al typewriter­­—it was a hard deci­sion.  (See my blog post for March 12, 2019

As it hap­pened I was liv­ing in Los Ange­les at the time I opt­ed for a PC, prob­a­bly because I was liv­ing next door to a com­put­er tech­ni­cian, who advised me to do so. 

A com­put­er rad­i­cal­ly changed the way I wrote. Even when I had com­mit­ted to pro­fes­sion­al writing—and had already pub­lished some books—I had strug­gled all my life with being dysgraphic. 


[What is dys­graphia? Here is a def­i­n­i­tion I scraped from the inter­net: “Dys­graphia is a dis­or­der of writ­ing abil­i­ty at any stage, includ­ing prob­lems with let­ter formation/legibility, let­ter spac­ing, spelling, fine motor coor­di­na­tion, rate of writ­ing, gram­mar, and com­po­si­tion.” Or, as a fond aunt of mine once said to me, “Avi, you can spell a five-let­ter word incor­rect­ly six dif­fer­ent ways.”]

Dur­ing ele­men­tary school, Fri­days were always spelling test days. Every Fri­day morn­ing I would inform my par­ents that I was too sick to go to school. That didn’t work. I went to school. 

 And here is a high school paper, as cor­rect­ed by an Eng­lish teacher. 

High School paper

Even when my man­u­scripts were proof­read before I sent them to an edi­tor, when I retyped the man­u­script, I would make just as many—if not more—errors. 

Scott Fitzger­ald (of Gats­by fame) was, appar­ent­ly, a bad speller. An edi­tor, upon review­ing one of my man­u­scripts, said I won the “Fitzger­ald Bad Speller of the Year Award.” 

So, learn­ing to use a com­put­er, with its abil­i­ty to cor­rect man­u­scripts and stay cor­rect­ed, was a huge thing for me. 

Then there was the day I learned to use the spell-checker. 

I don’t use the word “thrilled,” very often, but that day I was tru­ly thrilled. In a stroke, years of frus­tra­tion, embar­rass­ment, and end­less re-typ­ing changed for me. I want­ed to award the inven­tor of the spell-check­er the Nobel Prize, twice, once for tech­nol­o­gy, and again for psychology. 

Indeed, (ever since) when I am writ­ing, not a ses­sion pass­es, when I do not run my work through a spell-check­er, and now, a gram­mar check­er, as well. Yes, spelling but also, missed words, com­mas, wrong words, all is revealed. 

Curi­ous­ly, years of work­ing with a com­put­er, along with its blessed spell-check­er and gram­mar check­ers, has actu­al­ly helped me improve all those ele­ments of my dys­graphia. I sus­pect know­ing I was mak­ing all those glitch­es cre­at­ed great ten­sion. That ten­sion in turn caused many a mis­take. Hav­ing erased that ten­sion, many a mis­take is not made. 

And so, when I fin­ish this bit, I will check it. Hap­pi­ly, you won’t notice. 

But I will. 

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