5 Writing Tips I Learned from my Daughter with Down Syndrome

By Ruth Zive

My beautiful, funny, smart, chromosomally enhanced 14-year-old daughter has Down syndrome.  She is developmentally delayed in most parts of her life.

The diagnosis was a blow, all those years ago, but I’ve learned more from Julia than I ever imagined possible.  Those lessons could spawn countless blog posts, but today, I want to share the five essential writing tips I might have overlooked, had I not been blessed with my lovely daughter.

  • Keep it simple

Because Julia lacks the complexity that burdens most of us as we trudge through life, she embraces the obvious with simplicity and wonder. There is a gap between what she can understand and what she can express, so Julia has learned how to sum things up pretty succinctly, and I’ve learned from this approach.  In writing, a simple description like, “that bird is graceful,” (a little nugget she shared this morning) can pack more punch than a laundry list of adjectives that confuse the reader.

  • Keep it honest

Julia couldn’t lie if a gun was held to her head. She tells it like it is, and while I’m not accusing writers of lying, I do think that we often stretch truths and exaggerate to make a point.  That may be effective some of the time, but words can resonate more profoundly if we just keep it real.

  • Rely on your friends

Over the years, Julia has become aware of her shortcomings.  But she knows how to leverage the good intentions of her friends to her best advantage.  As writers, we should do the same.  We can’t be all things to all people.  Why not ask for feedback, solicit favors, lean on others who are more experienced and better connected?  I’ve learned that there are great resources in the writing community – and I shouldn’t be too proud to use them!

  • Work beyond your potential

When Julia was diagnosed, the doctors told me that she would possibly never walk or talk, she would likely be ill much of the time and she might always wear diapers.  In fact, Julia does triple digit addition, regularly posts on Justin Bieber’s Facebook fan page, and could teach you a thing or two about how to prepare the perfect scrambled egg.

Julia understands her areas of challenge, but she works hard to overcome. She chooses to believe that she can do it and she never gives up.

As writers, we are often defeatist in our work.  We focus on failures, and we become immobilized by fear.  While it’s important to acknowledge limitations, we should move past them, or we won’t realize our goals.

  • Don’t be shy

Julia is the friendliest, most outgoing person that I know.  And this has served her well.  Friendly, accessible people tend to go further in life.

As writers, we should be mindful of our peer group (especially in the blogosphere) and we shouldn’t be shy about befriending others.  Ours is an affable community, and we should capitalize on that spirit!  Tweet blog posts, ‘friend’ your favorite writers, add links and share your good experiences.  We can support each other and still advance our own careers.

Perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned from Julia is that difference should be embraced. It is an asset. What sets us aside from others defines us most profoundly.

So writers, find your voice, celebrate your quirks, herald your differences and get out there and write with gusto!  Julia will be proud.

Ruth Zive is a freelance writer, mom of five (plus pooch), wife, Ashtanga yoga devotee, designer handbag enthusiast, special needs advocate and vegetarian chocoholic.  

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