Confessions of a dyslexic technical writer

I had the good fortune to be diagnosed as having dyslexia when I was in the second grade. Good fortune is probably the wrong way to describe it. Back then because not much was known about the learning disability, so the early diagnosis probably saved me from a much different future than the life I live now.

So how did the kid with a learning disability grew up to become a technical writer and gets paid to learn new things and write about them to help other people learn?

Here’s how I made it work…

I’m better organized electronically than in hard copy

Being a technical writer requires pretty heavy duty organizational skills. Organization was hard for me in the days of print manuals. However, when the first personal information managers (PIMs) came out, I was all over them. I could remember my deadlines, meetings and track my tasks.

Scarily enough, I’ve become a power user on Microsoft SharePoint and lots of other online collaboration platforms along the way.

These days OmniFocus (iPad/iPhone/Mac) serves as a central hub for the project related tasks I’m working. Asana comes into play for my editorial checklists and some idea capture. Evernote is where I stash my research and web clipping all nice and tagged for future reference. It is nearly impossible for me to lose anything since I’m an Evernote Premium user.

Numbers are torture to me I’m definitely not a spreadsheet guy but when I have to work with numbers, I always check and double check my calculations again and again.

I *see* the project complete and work backwards

College was tough for me, but I found a talent in writing. Test taking was never my thing. There was a time; I chose to trade taking four philosophy class tests to write a major term paper. I try to envision whatever I’m writing in its complete state and work back from there.

One of the most influential classes I ever took in college was called The Composing Process taught by Dr. Molly Walter-Burnham (One of the few professors I respected). Her class challenged me to break down how I write. It was a class I drew upon even years later when I was trying to wrap replicable processes around my technical writing projects.

Change before blame…

My composing process is a direct result of compensating for my dyslexia. When something stops working, or I hit a snag, my first question is how to mitigate the risk not to blame my dyslexia. Instead of blaming my disability time is better spent putting together whatever was needed to ensure the mistake wouldn’t happen again (or at least less often).

Checklists are my co-pilot. I use checklists and replicable processes pretty heavily when I’m writing articles and blog posts for sites like CNET TechRepublic and others.

Passion is an important part of working

There’s nothing seedy about this confession. Rather, I think that dyslexics need to be especially passionate about whatever work they choose to do with their lives. I’ve had some real professional highs and lows in my career. My passions for writing and technology carried me through those times.

While free writing is tough with my schedule these days, I’m trying to use Medium and the LinkedIn Publishing System to publish some of my work. The introduction of these two platforms also gave me an excuse to revisit some old personal blog posts and update them to my current perspective.

Final thoughts

You have two choices as a person with dyslexia. You can feel sorry for yourself and let the disability cloud your prospects. The other and only true choice is to channel dyslexia into your success.

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. His writing experience also includes writing technology articles for CNET TechRepublic and other sites. Will’s technology interests include collaboration platforms, enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), project management applications, and big data. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.

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