BETWEEN SCYLLA & CHARYBDIS: why I can’t spell … and yes! You can be a writer even if you’re dyslexic

Some days I get caught between my inability to spell a word and the artistic desire to use just the right one. There’s a temptation to take the lazy way out, to substitute the easy word for the perfect one. My spelling is so bad that I got Ds and Fs on tests in elementary school. I was always the first one to get booted out of the spelling bee.

Later in life, when my son got home from school, I would hand him a manuscript and pay him a quarter for every misspelling he found. Now I just text him. Generally I can’t come close enough to the right spelling … if I could the spell-check might work for me  … so I just make like a crossword puzzle:

“Son, Homer between a rock and hard place … ?”

“Mom, Scylla and Charybdis.”

“Son, it begins with an ‘a’ and is foolish.”

“Mom, absurd…!!!!”

Even though I’m a slow reader and a poor speller, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t write for a living, probably because I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was almost fifty. (Story for another day.) I had no name to give this puzzling situation. In retrospect, that might be a good thing.

For years I thought my problem was my Brooklynese, my pronunciation. On and off over time I read books and listened to tapes on elocution, which did seem to help a bit. Then Laurel D. sent us this Funny or Die video, The Bensonhurst Spelling Bee. It’s a chuckle-and-a-half and has nothing to do with dyslexia, but in an odd way it sort-of validates my hypothesis. Pronunciation may not be the root of the challenge, but it probably does help to complicate things.


If you’re reading in email, you’ll likely have to click through to this site to view the video. (If you’re also from Brooklyn, it’s a must see.)

Humor aside, dyslexia shouldn’t stop anyone from being a writer. It’s not a reason to give up on writing or to encourage your children to do so. HERE is a list of twenty-five well-known writers who are or were dyslexic. The late Stephen Cannell was famously dyslexic. He was open about it in an effort to help and encourage others. The Learning Center section of his website provides some background and tips.

  • It is estimated that 15-17% of the population is dyslexic.

RESOURCES:

© Jamie Dedes; Illustration is in the public domain.

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