Her Stutter Made Her a Better Writer

a woman working on a laptopThe New York Times runs a regular feature called “Disability,” which it describes as a “series of essays, art and opinion by and about people living with disabilities.” The headline they used for an opinion piece they published in that section earlier this month caught my eye.

Or, in my case, I guess I should say my ear.

The opinion piece, titled My Stutter Made me a Better Writer, was written by Darcy Steinke, the author of five novels and two memoirs. I am a writer, too, and while I might not be as prolific as Ms. Steinke (I’ve only had three books published) we do have one thing in common: I, too, think my disability makes me a better writer.

In her essay, Ms. Steinke tells of her mother signing her up with a “string of therapists” during her elementary school years. She was sent to a famous speech therapy program at a college near their Virginia home when she was 13, and she says that in adulthood now her stutter is less disruptive. “The central irony of my life remains that my stutter, which at times caused so much suffering, is also responsible for my obsession with language,” she writes. “Without it I would not have been driven to write, to create rhythmic sentences easier to speak and to read.”

My blindness is a different story, but like Ms. Steinke, I credit my disability for helping make me the writer I am today. Blindness forces me to listen, a skill so helpful when writing dialogue. Medical appointments teach me the importance of providing good information, something I try to do for my readers.

Readers want to know how characters in stories respond to what happens to them. Because so many people have been curious about my blindness over the years, searching for the right words to explain how I lost my sight and how I responded to such a major change in life expands my vocabulary.

And then there’s this: my reporting comes from a different point of view.

Ms Steinke’s essay ends with an account of her preparing to record the audio version of her forthcoming book, Flash Count Diary. “Because of my stutter, I wasn’t sure that I could,” she writes. “Conversing, teaching, even reading out loud were all part of everyday discourse, but recording an audio book would take me into the world of professional oratory — a world, I assumed, from which I’d always be excluded.”


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