If you achieve any measure of success in the fiction writing field, measured here by if you manage to be published and be paid for what you wrote, it becomes common to hear the words “talent” applied. People assume you were born with a pen in your hand, you have something other within you that allows you to fashion words in a way that other people are simply lacking. You possess a knack for wordsmithing intrinsic to your internal self.
I can’t speak for the legion of writers who argue the talent versus persistence argument or derivations thereof; what I know is that I was not born with it. Gasp! I know. Blasphemer that I am, I wanted to confess.
I was not born with a muse astride my shoulder, I was not born with a pen in hand. If anything, I had the opposite experience.
Hard to say what happened to the wiring in my brain. I was a bright, laughing child thrown into odd circumstances with numerous challenges. But all in all, I was given the tools to explore, to learn, and to engage with my environment in every way possible before I even set foot into grade school. However, as the deadline neared, it became apparent something was off, something was different.
When they sat me down with pen and paper in an effort to teach me to write my name, the elements of writing could never coalesce. It wasn’t merely that I was learning something new — I could not make sense of the cyphers and figures. Words bent and mirror scripted. Walked backwards and crawled up the walls and off the paper. These sessions ended with hair raising screams and running away. I was not a loud or noisy or greedy or disruptive child. From the start, I presented as introspective, analytical, and weirdly older than my age. For me to throw pen and paper to the ground was unusual.
I was diagnosed with the learning disability of dyslexia. I laugh with the common jokes that come with the territory, but it doesn’t describe the shape and form of what happens inside my skull — things turn backwards and inside out. I would go to the wrong side of doors and cars, put on clothes backwards, shoes on the wrong foot, and time itself was illusory, difficult to wrangle and catch hold of. Buildings did not seem correctly built for my needs and shifted their exteriors, doorknobs slippery and turning in the wrong direction. A switch tripped between what I saw and what the reality was.
Words, nor numbers, then, were not my forte. Instead, teachers and parents forced me to learn the language of the masses, not the language of my native senses. From the start, I was constrained and frustrated; at the time, it was miserable. I had to restart the school year from scratch. They put me into the “slow classes” where I stayed until they advanced me in middle school. There, I did not fit in with either those children, nor the ones in the regular classes. From the beginning and ever after, I would always be fringe, liminal, and between worlds, belonging to none, in the world but not of it. Uncanny, by my very nature.
It was a miserable son of a bitch teaching fifth grade classes who inadvertently forced my thinking into another direction. When the time came to sort students out into different groups of readers, with assignments of varying difficulty, I was relegated to the bottom level. I became incensed. After all this time finally mastering writing and reading along with my peers, I saw no reason why I should not have a say in my own education. My anti-authoritarian identity became restless; I took matters into my own hands. Though I could not promote myself in the class, I swiped a copy of the book the advanced readers were assigned, and read it on my own, without help. The book was Watership Down by Richard Adams.
This was but the beginning. Many encounters with written works, words, and writers, would slowly take part in my formation as a writer. I wrote in earnest, awful, limping stories that barely made it over the finish line. Novellas of the worst nature, fit for firewood and not much else. Yet, they were the beginning, and I sent the first of my god-awful stories out when I was thirteen or fourteen, in 1994, when print markets had to be submitted to by mail, and earned my first rejection slips.
Today, I’m actively submitting stories to pro venues and sometimes, they publish me and pay me enough money to keep the electric on. Better yet, Skyhorse Publishing has taken me onto their roster and published Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, my debut last year, and this year, My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart.
The assumption becomes that I must be really good at this writing thing. Kinda, sorta, maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that I still reverse my words from time to time and reading words inverted is effortless. My co-workers in my graphics department have a laugh about how I’m the only one who works on advertisements upside down and sideways without changing the layout to suit myself. I don’t see why I should — the words are still the same no matter which direction they go in. It has become the strength through which I solve problems, to look at the world from a dynamic perspective, and perceive totalities and patterns others miss by inverting the way we define things. And this often bleeds into the stories themselves — characters whose viewpoints are challenged, their fundamental understandings shaken, and unable to take the most commonplace ideas for granted.
The point is, I started out with strikes against me. I started out with a learning disability and through sheer stubbornness and contrariness, learned the craft and will always be learning it. Mistakes will be made. Tears will be shed and blood and sweat spilled. I compete against people far more intelligent and competent than I and I expect, nay, demand, no quarter be given. If writing is something you want to do, pursue it. Don’t hold back because you think, not me, I’m not good enough, I wasn’t born with the right talent, the right skills, the right abilities. I sure as hell wasn’t. By no right or stroke of fortune should I even be here, doing what I do.
In some cases, resistance is not the thing that prevents one’s success, but the very force that propels it.