Zi71bFS9nQHnivtvUJquhejTHIQ The Story Factory Reading Zone: GUEST POST: Writing Blind from Christine Amsden

Thursday, 4 October 2012

GUEST POST: Writing Blind from Christine Amsden

I am absolutely delighted that Christine Amsden, author of The Immortality Virus has agreed to write a post for our 'Dis-Writing-Ability October' month.

So, without further ado, let me welcome Christine Amsden to the page:

Writing Blind

If you ever meet me in person, you may notice something a bit off about me. Maybe it’s the way I don’t quite meet your eyes or the way I miss the most obvious details. Or maybe you see me reading something with my trusty magnifying glass, the manuscript mere inches from my nose.

Let me just start by answering your first question: No, glasses will not help. Glasses, though they help so many, are not a magical cure. Alas, those of us whose problems do not lie in the area of the lens cannot benefit from the corrective power of glasses or contacts. I’m afraid I have a broken retina.

I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease when I was sixteen years old, at which point I began a rapid spiral towards legal blindness. Scar tissue formed on the center of my retina, creating a corresponding hole in the center of my vision. Mapped out using peripheral field tests, the hole has jagged edges, a bit like a star. I don’t see this star directly; there is no black spot hovering before my eyes – like anyone with a blind spot my brain tries to compensate by filling it in with details from the periphery. At the right distance, you’ll look like Cousin It to me. Step a little farther back and you may lose your head to the wall behind you. That is, of course, if I'm focusing on you, which I rarely do. Another way to compensate for a blind spot is to look around an item instead of at directly it, an imperfect mechanism that ensures I live in a blurry, unfocused reality.

“Legally blind” is a difficult concept to describe, not least because it is slightly different for every affected person. I can give you some technical jargon about having 20/200 vision with best correction but what does that mean?

Between guide dogs and glasses lies a middle ground of visual impairment, one that comes with blurred vision, an inability to see details, and a check in a box on tax forms. I can see you, but not as well as you see me. I can read, but not without enlargement of some sort. I am writing this right now in 36-point font, though it will appear normal when you read it.

When it comes to my daily routine, the biggest problem with legal blindness is that I cannot drive. It is a freedom that so many take for granted, but I’m afraid I have less sympathy with the current oil crisis than most. For me, an increase in public transportation would kill two birds with one stone.

I have always wanted to be a writer. It was my dream when I could still see individual leaves on trees and had no idea that one day I would scarcely recall what that was like. I would like to think that whatever I had wanted to do, I would have been able to make it work, vision problems or no vision problems, but of course, that is somewhat na├»ve. At one point, when I was considering “day jobs” (I knew early on that writing wouldn't easily pay the bills), I thought of being a pilot. The next year I knew that wouldn't work out.

Writing is what I do now, thanks largely to a supportive husband. Besides using 36-point font, I have my monitor on a flexible arm so it comes to me, reducing back and hip pain resulting from years of necessarily poor posture.

My vision slipped twice in my life. The first happened early, taking me from nearly perfect vision at 15 to legal blindness at 18. For years afterward, 26-point font was fine, and I could read most normal print with a simple hand held magnifying glass. Then, two years ago, at 33, my vision slipped again. I now see closer to 20/400 with best correction. Practically speaking, this means I have gone to an even larger font working, and that I can't read many of those school forms my kids bring home in their backpacks every day. I am working on convincing the teachers to send me e-mail instead, because anything that comes to me on my computer is easily enlargeable.

I “read” most of my books, for pleasure or business, in audio format. The national library for the blind and physically handicapped has a fine catalog with a respectable number of titles. If you ever wonder why I write science fiction and fantasy, but read more romance, the answer is simply that the library for the blind doesn't record as much scifi and fantasy as romance, and what they do record tends to be for children or young adults. I am not up to date on recent speculative fiction authors, though I am well read in the classics.

I have a Nook that I can use at the largest font setting. I am thrilled that I can read more current books, although I am very picky about what I will read that way. It is a slow process. In the days of the individual leaves, I could devour entire novels in an evening and not even have to stay up that late. These days even turning pages takes longer than that, and since I only get 20-30 words on a page...well, like I said, I'm picky.

Writing itself is not all that difficult for me. Oh, I think when it comes to visual description I might not use the vivid brush strokes I have seen (heard) other authors use. I haven't heard any complaints, though, so I'm either doing better than I think, or other aspects of my stories more than compensate. I tend to think the latter is true. One thing I like to do when I write is to burrow into the characters' heads, finding the heart of who they are and bringing that to life on the page. This isn't something you can see; it's something you have to feel.

Revising and editing are also not difficult for me, thanks to large fonts and a monitor that come to me instead of the other way around. There isn't an author in the world who turns in perfect drafts, and neither do I, but I've seen far worse copies from authors who don't have my convenient excuse. For that reason, I don't make it an excuse. The words are large enough that I can see if they're the right ones or not, and to the best of my ability, I make sure they are. (Note: Murphy's Law would suggest that there is a blaring typo somewhere in this manuscript, and that I'm going to hear about it as soon as it goes live on the internet!)

Believe it or not, I have recently gotten into editing. This is an aspect of writing that I shied away from for years because of my own feelings of inadequacy. Lately, though, I have become convinced that with the right tools in place, I am as capable of finding and catching errors as anyone else – and more than most. I started editing after years of teaching online writing workshops and providing feedback to the students. The feedback on my feedback over the years has been empowering. Plus, I love it. I love reviewing a promising piece of fiction in such a way that I can be a part of making it better. I admit that I prefer content editing to copy editing, but that's mostly because content editing feels more rewarding to me.

I love questions, by the way. If ignorance is a disease, then asking questions is the cure. So ask away. I can take it.

For more information on Stargardt’s Disease (including more technical information), visit the American Macular Degeneration Foundation at http://www.macular.org/stargardts.html
Thankyou Christine for sharing with us. 
If anyone has any questions (or would like to share how their own 'disability' affects writing or reading) then please feel free to leave a comment. 
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