Writers on Writing: 18 Blogs of Christmas with Amy Avanzino
I’m frequently asked if I always dreamed about becoming a writer. The truth is that the thought never crossed my mind.
I’m profoundly dyslexic. I didn’t learn to read until I was in the fourth grade. My memories of early reading are painful and mostly involved tears, frustration, and ridicule from classmates. My sister, however, loved to read. She would go missing for days at a time only to emerge for a new book. Before diving into another, she’d share with me each adventure she had taken with each novel. I’d sit and listen for hours. In return, I’d share with her the stories that drifted through my mind. Sometimes I’d make her laugh, sometimes I’d make her cry, and if she didn’t do either I’d start over.
According to my high school English teacher, I wasn’t much of a writer either. No matter how hard I tried, I never got an A on a writing assignment. However, my classmates always seemed entertained by the stories I’d tell at lunch, between classes, or more likely during boring lectures. (And then I’d have to share my stories to the vice principal, which usually got me out of trouble.)
I went to UC Berkeley for my undergraduate studies, even though I was often told that “special students” like me wouldn’t graduate. All the standardized entrance exams predicted I wouldn’t get into grad school, but I tried anyway. I received my Master’s Degree from the University of Washington.
I became a special education teacher. I was driven to help others like myself. What motivated me was the lesson I wanted to teach my students, which was being labeled with a reading disability does not mean a child is “not able” as the terminology suggests. I was the proof they needed that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
I never stopped telling the stories that would drift through my mind. I was encouraged by a friend to submit one to a writing contest. I knew my chances of winning were small, but that had never stopped me before. I won. My story, along with a few other winners, was made into an Off-Off-Broadway play. We won two Audience Choice awards.
Against the odds, I wrote a novel, found an agent, who found a publisher, and I signed a three-book publishing deal, which we now call the Wake-Up Series. It’s unlikely that my name will one day be found on a bestseller list, and that’s exactly why I will make it happen. Despite my reading disability—I am able.
I never dreamed of becoming a writer, but I do believe I was born to tell the stories that drift through my mind. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Amy Avanzino is a contributing writer of Hap Scotch, a play performed at the 2008 Frigid Festival in New York, which won two Audience Choice Awards.
Her latest in the Wake-Up Series is From The Sideline, which released July 2016.