What is it Like to Be a Blind Writer Writing for Sighted Readers?

From The Literary Hub:

What is it like to be blind in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by sighted individuals? Jessica Powers, founder and publisher at Catalyst Press, spoke to George Mendoza and Kristen Witucki about crafting stories for sighted readers, finding community and release in fiction, and battling ableism in traditional publishing and publicity.

Jessica Powers: When did you both start writing?

Kristen Witucki: My favorite toy as a child was the tape recorder. I destroyed my first one by pouring water on it so that I could hear the sound of water. Once I got that life lesson out of the way (and did not kill myself, as my mother worried), it became my best tool for telling stories, writing, and revising, long after I learned how to read and write. I wanted to write because I love to read and to live in stories, and I want to create that experience for others and for myself.

I wrote (on paper) my first “novel” when I was 12. It was based on my grandmother’s life; she had to take care of her mother while her brothers could continue in school. My mother unearthed the manuscript 25 years later, and it has every literary stereotype gone amuck. (Think Caddie Woodlawn, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne Shirley mushed together.) I might never be able to fix it, but it was mine. My teacher took me the whole way through the drafting, revising, and publication-seeking process, and a very kind editor realized that a child wrote this and gently turned it down in a way that I emerged from the experience thinking, “Ok, I was rejected this time, but so is everyone else, and I can do this sometime.”

But I came to writing and the subject of disability during college in my composition classes when my professors asked me to work on the blindness stories more. And as a senior in college, I was fortunate to hear the author Jhumpa Lahiri speak as our college’s writer-in-residence. At the time she was writing about the experiences of immigrants from India and their first-generation American children and the lives they were forging here; she was also writing about love and loss, commitment and betrayal, human longing. She said that writing gave her a center and a way to be a participatory observer in the world, and I thought maybe I could try this as a blind person.

George Mendoza: I come from a family of writers and artists so I guess in a way it is an inherited gift. However, because I went blind at 15, I really had no other choice but to find my creative juice. Creativity saved my life! I grew up listening to talking books for the blind, books like The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia. Books took me away from my own suffering and doubts. I am a painter, too. I find painting very relaxing, while writing and working on a novel is hard work and labor intense.

Jessica Powers: The world of books has long been associated with sight, with the exception of books in braille. But now there are audiobooks, voice-activated text to page, software that can read emails and books to you. What technology do you two use to read books? What technology do you use to write?

Kristen Witucki: I grew up reading with braille and audio, and I still use both those methods. I write on either a small braille notetaking computer or on my laptop using Jaws, a screen reading program.

. . . .

George Mendoza: I use Jaws computer software to write with on my computer. Jaws has a human-like voice. When I type, the program reads the words back to me so am directed with my sentences as I construct them. Jaws also lets me proofread to make sure the sentences read well and make sense. When I proofread, the spell check is once again using a human voice.  It is not perfect, but it is the best thing next to a human proofreading for me. As for reading, I listen to digital audiobooks provided to the blind by the New Mexico Library for the Blind.

Jessica Powers: I know writers who have to physically write their books, others who use their computers, writers who read their books out loud to revise, writers who cut and paste physically. What is the process of writing like for you that might be different than a sighted person? How do you think that changes both your experience of writing and changes the book that you end up writing?

George Mendoza: My writing process goes something like this: I usually dream about the words I am going to write about while sleeping. Then I write down some notes in very large print, because of my blindness. I review them and then I write those words and scenes on my computer using the Jaws speech system for the blind. I dream in color and I can actually see the words on a printed page.

Kristen Witucki: I think the computer has brought my process of writing closer to that of a sighted person so that writing itself is very similar. If I send a manuscript for feedback, I still find it easier to respond to narrative comments written in the body of an email than I do to comments embedded into the text. But I’ve learned to work with all of these features.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

1 thought on “What is it Like to Be a Blind Writer Writing for Sighted Readers?”

  1. AFAIK, the world is dominated by sighted individuals.

    Don’t get me wrong, the article is interesting, but the initial framing is weird.

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