Tips for Writing with a Brain-Related Disability

By Nigel David Kelly

A smartphone, keyboard and notepads and pens, and a set of Apple earbuds are fanned out on a white surface.

A very wise and famous man once wrote a note to a friend: “The man who looks at the world the same way at sixty, as he did at thirty, has wasted thirty years of his life.” That man was Muhammad Ali.

Now I am not 60 yet, though not that far off, but I now look at the world in a very different way than I did 30 years ago. I’d like to say this is due to some epiphany of my own volition, but no, it was forced on me.

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It is probably best I didn’t know then how much this would change my life.

One of the things I have learned is that, though you can empathize or sympathize, you really don’t understand another person’s life experience, unless you’ve been through it. We are all limited by our own experience. That is okay.

So what I am about to say applies first and foremost to me. But I hope that someone else may be able to take this and modify it to suit their own circumstances.

Building a tool kit

When I started writing, I was a physical and intellectual dynamo. Now my physical and mental energies are vastly reduced. One big problem is computer time. On a good day, I can only manage minutes in front of a monitor.

So how do I write?

First, there is that great, unmatched (so far) computer: the human brain. Every waking hour, when I am up to it, can be spent thinking about what I want to write.  But I can only retain so much, even if my brain is at its best. Of course I can write it down on a piece of paper, however, what if, like me, you have difficulty writing any more than a couple of sentences before your hand tires and cramps, and your writing resembles something hung on the wall of a modern art gallery?

You can buy a battery-powered voice recorder, or a USB-charged voice recorder, which is much smaller. But someone needs to listen to your ramblings, make sense of them, and type it up. So, this solution, in the end, may turn out to be problematic.

Choosing the right tech

Technology is a great savior! Thirty years ago, when I started working with computers, speech recognition was very poor and impractical. Today, it is amazing. You don’t even have to buy expensive software; you can dictate directly into your smartphone. So if you’re relaxing on the sofa, watching TV, listening to music, enjoying your garden, soaking up some sun rays, or even chatting to a friend, and you have an idea, just get your phone out and talk.

Most publishing houses, magazines, newspapers, and blogs use Microsoft Word as a writing and editing tool. And now, you can get Word on your smartphone. Now I’m not trying to tell you what to buy, just giving an example. You can get MS Office 365 for £59.99 / $79.27 a year, which includes all updates. You can install it on up to four devices and dictate straight into it.

You can use cloud storage to store your recordings, so you can find them on whatever computer you need to use. No need to worry about transferring them here and there.

Building routine

Now, we need to find the best way to incorporate this modern tech into our new altered state.

Like me, I’m sure for most people with disabilities, the biggest issue is energy. I used to think, “Today I’ll do A, B, C, D, E and F.” Now, I may do A and B. If I manage C, it’s a “gold star” day. During the morning, I try to use my computer to work on what I have written/dictated the previous day. The rest of the day I use my smartphone. I keep it with me at all times, as my wife texts from work to make sure I am still vertical.

I just have to accept that my work output is a fraction of what it use to be.

But I appreciate what I can do on a much deeper level, and I like to think the quality of my work has actually improved.

Nigel David Kelly is a writer, published author, public speaker, honors graduate and MENSAN. He has been published by McFarland and Oleb Books. He has contributed to Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities, which was published by Oleb Books on October 1st 2018. Learn more at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.