The Boy Who Couldn’t Spell

When I was 10, I was given a dictionary for my birthday. It wasn’t any normal dictionary like the Macquarie or Oxford, it was the Misspellers Dictionary – perfect for kids like me, who couldn’t spell to save themselves.

You looked up how you thought a word was spelled, and then the Misspellers Dictionary would give you the correct spelling. Unfortunately, the way I thought words were spelled didn’t even make it to the misspelled section. I kept the book at home as I was too embarrassed to be seen using it by friends and teachers. I’d started to wear glasses by then too, and I didn’t need any more reasons for people to single me out.

The dictionary didn’t really help much, as my school assignments would still come back with more red ink than blue.  

I hated reading aloud as well. I’d be a tight ball of anxiety knowing it was my turn to read to the class and when the time came, I’d prove everyone correct in thinking I couldn’t read as well as spell.

But the thing is, I could read (mainly to myself) and I could write. I wrote little stories about a boy called ‘Herpes Zosta” who went on Blinky Bill type adventures and drew pictures to go with them.

I loved coming up with ideas. My imagination was my safe place to disappear into while a difficult home life swirled around me.

Writing was sort of like breathing for me, it felt natural, but unlike breathing, it didn’t come easy.

The challenge of writing

Today I still find writing hard. To be honest, really hard. People think that because I do it all the time, words must flow like warm honey from my fingers. But sadly they don’t.

My anxiety means my brain runs a zillion times faster than my hands can type and I’m constantly making typos, and that’s only on a Facebook post! I then beat myself up for being such a klutz.

My undiagnosed mild dyslexia (I’m owning it) means I swap words around and phrase things strangely.

My lack of focus (again anxiety) when editing, means I take longer to read back what I’ve written, and I still miss out joining words or get the tense wrong, even after I’ve edited a paragraph or something similar. 

I always feel like a klutz.

Old beliefs from childhood, that I’m not good enough and that I’m all alone in this crazy world, still pop up and I have to beat them down with a squeaky rubber chicken so that I don’t take them too seriously. Bash. Squeak. Bash. Squeak. A bit of therapy. Bash. Squeak.

Given all that, it still amazes me that I now make a living as a writer and illustrator. I’ve written awarding winning radio and advertising copy for 25 years, written and illustrated 8 books (including winning a big book award) and I also write blog posts, articles and social media stories.

It takes effort though. It may feel natural to write and draw as self-expression, but it doesn’t come easily.

What pushes me to keep going?

I love ideas and need to get them out. I don’t want to try and impress people with prose or some half-arsed literary prowess, I just want to get my ideas across in the most direct way possible.

The only way to do that is to write like Josh Langley.

Simple, direct and honest with a few quirky phrases that drives my editor nuts. I write hoping for the least distance between you, the reader, and me. That’s what makes me keep writing, regardless of how difficult it can be.

My books now line the shelves of bookshops, libraries and homes around the country and the world.

Kids fall asleep hugging them, parents’ credit them for changing their kids’ lives, and every week I get a message from a reader telling me how they feel a little less alone in the world.    

I think back to the little boy who couldn’t spell and whose life felt like a litany of mistakes, failures and disappointments and I’d whisper to him, “You’re doing OK kid, you’re going to be just fine. You’re important to the world”.

My 3rd Children’s’ book, Magnificent Mistakes and Fantastic Failures; finding the good when things seem bad is partly a love letter to that kid. It’s due out in March through Big Sky Publishing.

One thought on “The Boy Who Couldn’t Spell

  1. Joelene Lavrick says:

    I loved your whole article Josh 🙂 You have made it and you have always been so important. I wish I was your teacher. Evetything would have bren different. ,:) I’m glad you had a driving force of love inside your heart. 🙂 Love Miss Lavrick 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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