Wednesday 12 October 2011

Surviving the Slushpile a dyslexic

by Sally Poyton
Guest Blogger

Notes from the Slushpile attempts to make some sense out of the mad scramble for a publishing deal. As the newest slushpile guinea pig, I'm going to attempt to take you all with me... This is the second in new series Surviving the Slushpile, where we'll highlight some of the highs and lows of the slushpile journey.

Sally Poyton is knee-deep in the slushpile just like the rest of us - and you think you've got it hard!

I’m dyslexic, and just like Winnie-the-Pooh, my spelling wobbles, unfortunately sometimes with embarrassing results. This can be problematic, especially as I’m trying to write a novel. As if breaking in to the world of literature isn’t difficult enough with dropping book sales, slushpiles and all manner of other obstacles to avoid. How about adding this to your list: having to translate your manuscript from your own version of English, to one that other people can read.
So here are a few words about my daily battles with, well, words.
Case One: Napoleons Ice Cream
It’s an easy mistake to make, and I made it. As a kid, I read the top of the ice-cream pot as ‘Napoleons Ice Cream’ as opposed to ‘Neapolitan Ice Cream’. So, yes, I really thought it was named after the little French man with the big chip on his shoulder. I thought he couldn’t decide which flavour of ice cream was his favourite, and therefore got them all put together in one pot (dictators can do this can’t they?).
Advice : Don’t trust anyone! Because until recently, nobody corrected me…

Napoleon and his favourite ice-cream
Case Two: Fooling the spell checker
This must be the bane of any dyslexic writer’s life – spelling one word wrong, but inadvertently spelling another word correctly in its place. This is BAD! Spell checker doesn’t pick it up, and as it has no red squiggly line underneath it, neither do I.
If you thought Napoleons ice cream was bad, think again. Imagine working for an educational computer company, and selling, say, Brothel printers instead of Brother Printers. Thankfully, I had a boss with a sense of humour. That’s not my only work place mistake, but I’ll spare you the details of the castrated chips.
Advice: Ignore the advice in Case One. Always get someone you trust to proofread your work.

Case Three: Google is for life, not just for searching for websites
Spell checker, that’ll fix everything, right? Well let me tell you – this is a myth. Spell checker most of the time has no idea what word I’m trying to write. Usually I end up spending precious minutes retyping the word in as many different ways as I can think of to try and get it to recognise my intended word, and advise me of the correct spelling, but with no luck.

Should've gone to Google...!

In fact my spell checker seems to have developed an attitude recently. If it was actor, it would have stormed off to its trailer long ago. Yesterday, it point blank refused to check my spelling saying that there were too many mistakes in the manuscript.

Oh dear. Word rebels at last.

Advice: When Word spell checker fails, copy your misspelt word and paste it into the search bar in Google. This will then bring up websites featuring the word you meant, just like magic. How can this be possible? Information. Google saves and remembers all of the searches done worldwide. This includes all of the people who search for something but spelt it incorrectly. It also then remembers what sites they went to. So far has it has never got it wrong for me. It’s a great tool, and it’s also reassuring to know there are other people who are not only really bad at spelling, but spell the same way as you.

Case 4: The Unreadable Manuscript
After ten months of researching, plotting and writing, I completed my first ever manuscript. Feeling an enormous sense of achievement, I printed it off and asked a friend, who happens to be an editor of children’s books, to read it. After two weeks came an awkward conversation. It turned out that my draft novel was unreadable. Why? Well it was one paragraph with a mere 115000 word count. Plus the only grammar used was full stops and the occasional comma.
Advice: Don’t let this deter you. Grammar can be learnt. Writing is a craft, and grammar is one of the tools which you will learn on the journey. (Unlike spelling, which eludes me completely). Get some kids workbooks on grammar, and learn. It’ll take a while, but it can be done.
Alternatively, get help. If you’re serious about writing, budget in some money to get your work proofread, or copyedited, to pick up any errors that you miss. But most important of all: don’t give up.
Case 5: An Ode to Dyslexics Everywhere
Some of the all-time greatest author were dyslexic – Roald Dahl, A.A. Milne , William Butler Yeats and Hans Christian Anderson to name a few. Having dyslexia can be an obstacle, but it is also a gift. Being dyslexic, your head is wired differently, using more of the right side of the brain, the creative half.

At least there's one word you always know how to spell in Scrabble! It's worth 21 points, too.

This means that you think differently, which can be very useful for a writer. Being dyslexic you see and experience the world differently, and then process that information through the creative part of your brain, meaning one thing – ideas. What’s a story without ideas? A story with the absence of creative ideas would be a barren narrative.

So, yes, we may have trouble with words, but that can be fixed. What’s important is having the ideas, and being able to tell a story.

So if you’re dyslexic and you want to write, then write. It won’t be easy, but that not why we do it. There is one thing that unites all writers, dyslexic, and non-dyslexic: we all write because we love to write.

Sally Poyton has done everything from admin to hand-rearing parrots. She studied Art at university and produced works based on fairy tales. With a desire to write, Sally eventually overcame her fear that her dyslexia would prohibit her, and started writing. Now, many hours and manuscript re-writes later, she thinks of herself as a writer. An unpublished and un-agented writer, but still a writer! She enjoys all forms of narrative, from graphic novels to films, but her passion is fairy tales, and the darkness within them.


  1. I love this post! Thanks for writing it Sally - it did really make me wonder how on earth you do it! Amazing.

  2. This is just so inspiring. Thanks for guesting on our blog, Sally, hand-rearer of parrots. Your story is going to move many writers.

  3. Fantastic post, honest and funny. Thanks!

  4. Well done, Sally. You can do. Jean Fullerton, who writes East End sagas, is also dyslexic and has so far had 3 books published. So it can be done.

  5. Julie, thanks for the encouragement. I've always been told not to write, so it’s great to see that other dyslexic writers have actually made it!

  6. I'm impressed you managed to find something positive to say in what sounds a really daunting situation. We shall all be giving an extra big cheer when you get published.

  7. Sally! I was laughing my head off in a few places -especially the spell-checkers decision to quit on you. lol!

    What a great post -and an inspiring one at that. You have a brilliant voice and no doubt, that will shine through in all your projects.

    I totally know where you are coming from as I have semi-dyslexic/language issues when writing (especially when my mind reads words that are not actually on the page but subconsciously knows it’s there –it’s annoying!) but as you say, don't give and keep persevering -if that is truly what you want to do.

    Excellent stuff -keep that positivity-A-going. :)

  8. Have you tried Texthelp?
    My son, who is in the bottom 1% of the population for spelling, used to use voice recognition software, but now prefers this. It can deal with homophones. I doubt if it could solve the brother/brothel problem though!

  9. Hi Janet,
    I haven’t tried texthelp, but I’ll have a look at it. I did like your son try voice recognition software, about 12years ago I tried ‘Dragon Speak’, but I couldn’t get it to understand my accent (I roll my r’s), so unfortunately for me, I couldn’t train my dragon!

  10. Such an inspiring post, Sally! Kudos to you for persevering and for lighting the way for others to follow. And HUGE congratulations for being on the UV longlist this year!!!

  11. Hi Amy,

    Thank you, i'm very excitited!

  12. Hi Amy,

    Thank you, i'm very excitited!

  13. Sally! Huge CONGRATS on being long-listed for the Undiscovered Voices anthology. Well done! ... Just goes to show ...

  14. Thanks Candy, yes i've congratulated my spell checker too!


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