Writing from the Blind Spot

Goggles

Guest Post
by Jordan Buchanan

Let’s try a little experiment. Remember these?  <—

I know what you’re thinking—you haven’t seen those since chemistry class. Now imagine sticking a dime-sized piece of painter’s tape on the center of the right lens before painting the outside surfaces of the goggles black. Once they’re dry, pull off the tape and put those bad boys on. That’s not too bad; you have to turn your head a lot and your peripheral vision is completely gone, but there’s still that little opening to see through. But wait… there’s more! Tape a piece of thin tissue paper over your peephole. All set? Awesome! Now boot up your laptop and write a novel. Will it be easy? No. Is it possible? Of course! All you need are a few tech tricks and patience. Lots and lots of patience.

I’ve been in the process of losing my eyesight nearly my entire life. Luckily, every time the situation seemed dire, there was a medication, treatment, or surgery that pulled me back from the brink. In 2009, though, I was certified legally blind. By 2013, I could no longer manage to perform the duties required of me at my workplace, and I joined the ranks of the disabled. As someone who’d worked for forty years and enjoyed almost every day of it, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My charming husband reminded me of the writing I’d done as a hobby in the late 90s and suggested I get back to it. In hindsight — the only 20/20 vision I’ll ever have — I believe his ulterior motive was to distract me from proposing home improvement projects. Still, the idea was intriguing, but I had my doubts. Could I handle hours at the computer? And what about proofreading? What if I typed gibberish and couldn’t tell? After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I reached the conclusion I had nothing to lose. I had plenty of free time on my hands and storylines forming in my underutilized brain. Being the stubborn woman I am, I decided to try.

After considerable trial and error, here’s what helped me become a published indie author by 2015:

On my laptop, full screen magnification is my best friend. Depending on how bad my vision is on any given day (it fluctuates), I increase the display anywhere from 200 – 400%. Basically, the neighbors across the street could probably read what’s on my screen through my window. Since I write erotic romance, I keep the drapes closed. They really don’t need to know that much about me.

When I’m working in MS Word, if the magnification isn’t quite getting it done for me, I open the View tab and amp it an additional 20% or so. Obviously a larger monitor is optimal; a 17-inch is as small as I can go. I confess I am sometimes jealous of those who can use tiny notebooks computers. They are so cute and should be pink and say Barbie on them.

On a smaller device like my smartphone, options for enlarging the display aren’t as plentiful as on a laptop, but text, email, and web pages typically can be pinched and spread. Most effective is turning on reverse contrast — white print on a black background. For anyone with even mild vision issues, it’s easier to read than black on white. What do I use my phone for? Quick Google searches are very handy on my phone using its voice recognition option. I also message knowledgeable friends for advice on various plot elements. Thank God I know folks who are willing to share their expertise on guns, poisons, mental health treatments, etc. Sometimes I even ask them questions relevant to what I’m writing.

I couldn’t write or read without my Kindle. There was a gap of a few years between when I could no longer read print books and when I received my first Kindle Fire. Getting the gift of books back was life-changing! Using both reverse contrast and enlarged fonts, I’m able to read everything from classics to trash, but with only a few lines fitting on my screen at a time, I do have to swipe like a picky Tinder user. I email my manuscripts to my Kindle and proofread on there. Looking at the words on a different device helps errors jump out and it’s good to see how the book will look on an eReader. Reading aloud also lets me spot missing or echoed words or phrases. My record for overuse of the word “just” in one chapter is an embarrassing nineteen.

As you could guess, with everything magnified to this extent, pages often don’t fit on the screen of my laptop. There’s a lot of sliding side to side and scrolling up and down that has to happen. It takes longer for me to write than it used to, and there’s no getting around it. That’s when the patience I mentioned earlier comes into play. There are also days I couldn’t see to write if the words were billboard-sized and yeah, you got it, patience is called off the bench again. When two or three of those days string together, it’s tough. Once in a while, though, I wake up and can see the time on the clock across the room, pour my own coffee without fear of scalding my fingers, and begin writing without delay. Those days are precious gifts and I revel in every one of them. You have to look on the bright side, make your own silver lining, and hang on to your sense of humor. When someone points out a typo — “eyetrocities” I’ve dubbed them — I have a ready excuse. “Oh, thank you, I didn’t see that.” When I wrote my hero had a bugle in his trouser front, however, no excuse ever invented would let me live that one down.

It is my sincere hope readers of this blog post never have need of these coping strategies. Most vision issues are treatable if caught early, so please see an ophthalmic professional regularly. My favorite literary quote, from The Little Prince, is “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Although I embrace the sentiment, many beautiful nonessentials are worth seeing. Take care of your precious eyes, my friends, and happy writing!


author jordan buchananJordan Buchanan is the author of erotic romance short stories and novels she describes as realistic fantasy. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys cuddling with her three adopted Lab mixes and watching Detroit Red Wings hockey. You can learn more about Jordan on her website and her Author Central page.

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23 thoughts on “Writing from the Blind Spot”

  1. What an inspiration! I have often thought that going blind would be the very worst thing that could ever befall me, as I would lose both reading and writing. It’s wonderful to hear how you overcame the obstacles and persevered. Many of the workarounds you mention would never have occurred to me, so obviously your disability does not affect your problem-solving skills, nor, I might add, your sense of humor. Thanks for sharing this. Much good luck to you now and in the future.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Melissa. “Inspiration” made me laugh; I never, ever thought of myself as anything sounding quite so serious. All I know is I love the written word enough to keep me trying.
      Happiest of holidays to you!

  2. Great post, Jordan. Definitely food for thought. We share a similar fate, though it is not my eyesight that is failing, for which I am grateful. I can’t imagine the challenge of writing must be for you, though you describe it well. Like you, I’ve worked a long, long time in a field I love. As a research virologist, working with viruses most people don’t want to think about, my greatest attribute, aside from my brain (haha) was muscle coordination. Diagnosed several years ago with adult onset muscular dystrophy, that coordination slipped away and I was forced into the ranks of the disabled, too. I turned to my writing as a fall back, like you, and have since published several horror/sci-fy novels. I love what I do now, though typing keeps getting a little more challenging every week. Still, I miss my viruses. (Tried Dragon software, but I thought the thing was going to explode trying to deal with dialect, especially one of my Haitian characters. 🙂 ).

    Having just a small taste of what you describe, I salute your courage and tenacity. I suppose the bottom line is, at least for me, challenges come in different sizes, shapes and flavors, and it’s for us to figure out how to meet them. I wish you continued success in surmounting you yours.

    1. Hi, Thomas!
      Thank you for sharing some of your story in your comment. It funny, I used to think most other people were floating through life, without a care in the world. What I’ve finally come to learn is that none of us are left unscathed.
      With your background, you must have a wealth of interesting detail to add to your writing. How awesome is that? I wrote a novel that needed a bit of theoretical physics sprinkled in and I was sure my brain would explode trying to understand wormholes. Thank God for a Stephen Hawking YouTube video.
      Best of luck to you and happy holidays!

  3. Thank you Jordan. You have given us two gifts – inspiration and and increased level of gratitude. You remind me of the old adage, “where there’s a will there’s a way”. Great post. Keep writing.

    1. Yvonne, you used one of my favorite words–gratitude. A young friend of mine, facing the certain end of her life, said gratitude will get you through the toughest of times. I think of that often and have added humor to my must-have list. If I can laugh at it, it can’t be that bad, right?
      Thank you so much for your comment!

  4. Hello Jordan, thanks for the inspiration. I was legally blind for about 6 months and know where you’re coming from. My cataracts were caused by taking large quantities of Prednisone over a period of time for my ITP (autoimmune blood disorder).
    At the time, I was writing for a couple of newspapers and had to write up my notes with big, fat magic markers and use the largest font possible on my computer. It was extremely frustrating, but I got 4-5 articles written each week. My husband, Bob, did the driving, photography, and proofreading. Without him, I would have gone insane!
    It was like a miracle after the first surgery. I read out loud every billboard, sign, and the numbers off of mailboxes all the way home. (Drove Bob crazy!)
    Thank you for writing this post. It reminds us all what a wonderful gift we have, and that we should never take for granted the gift of sight.

    1. Hi, Greta!
      I also had a cataract removed back in 1993 and I know exactly how you felt afterward. What a revelation to see the leaves on the trees instead of a blob of green. It is amazing what eye surgeons can do. I’m having a repeat corena transplant on December 13. I know going in that it won’t be a permanent fix but it should give me a bit more functionality for a year or two. People ask me why I’m putting myself through another surgery that will fail over time. I have two reasons. First, even a few months of better vision is worth it to me. Second, and more importantly, my first and most likely only grandchild is coming in February and I want to see him as clearly as I possibly can. I’ll can do a little time in the OR for that.
      Thank you so much for your comment and kudos to Bob for helping you. My dad’s name was Bob and I’m partial to Bobs. Happy holidays!

  5. I have to magnify everything, too. Things you might try:
    Use a smaller paper size while writing, say 6″x9″ or 4″x5″. Less scrolling back and forth. This is the one I use most.

    Use the voice reader (I’ve forgotten it’s proper name) to read your work back to you. It sounds awful, but it’ll catch the bugles. 🙂

    An acquaintance uses voice-activated software, such as Dragon. She says it’s a lifesaver for her writing.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I love your tip on proofing on another device. I’ve been using the read aloud option to help proof my documents on word. Definitely helps.

    BTW, a bugle in a guy’s trousers sounds kind of interesting for an erotic romance. I’d read that.

  7. Thanks, Jordan. This article started my day with a good laugh, and a reminder that the minor woes associated with ageing are just that, minor. In the last few years I’ve developed ‘dry eyes’, and I hate having to use eye drops, but I can still see just fine. Sometimes we forget to count our blessings. -hugs-

    1. Thanks for the hug! I will always take a hug.
      Dry eyes I’m familiar with too. Because of the inflammation I have, the popular drug on the TV commercials isn’t an option for me but I have found that using the icky ointment at night helps tremendously. Ack, sorry I drifted into OTC pharmacology there. Must be the arsenal of eye drops on the end table next to me. lol
      Thank you for the comment and happy holidays!

  8. Didn’t really want to read this one, because I have one eye something like your pair. As long as I’m nice to my good eye, no problem. In the future…? It’s good to know that someone can continue to write in your situation, so thanks, Jordan

  9. Jordan, this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on IU: hilarious AND informative. You really can’t get any better than that! My father lost his left eye to a cancerous tumor in 2003. He was a genealogist (a casual hobby that turned into an intense passion) and was worried that a prosthetic eye would impede his research. He used to visit a local library to scan microfiche. Then the library’s main office began digitalizing their records right about the time he had that removed. I’m not a computer expert – knowing only what I learned at work – but I was able to help him grow accustomed to using his computer to conduct his research. In 2008, he developed a bad case of shingles on the right side of his face; very near the only functioning eye he had. He had to have the eyelid partially sutured to allow the cornea to rest. He could have gone blind. But his eye healed, and he resumed his research until he died 18 months ago.

    I’m certainly glad you revived your writing craft, instead of pursuing those home improvement projects. The latter may be necessary, but they’re too frustrating and expensive. Reading and writing are definitely more therapeutic! I wish the best for you in your ongoing career.

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