Speaking of which…
Keeping in mind our limited time, I wanted to take a quirk moment to chat with you about one of the most important thing to learn in storytelling. This can easily be a make-or-break thing. I’ve heard contest directors talk about it, agents talk about it, editors talk about it. They all see it constantly and it makes all of them roll their eyes.
I’ve got to know how to spell if I want to make it as a writer.
Well… As I’ve talked about once or thrice before, spellcheckers are pretty much idiots. They can tell me if a word’s spelled right, but they can’t tell me if it’s the right word. It’s the classic there, their, or they’re argument.
And that’s the vocabulary half of this. Some of the greatest computers out there are pretty bad when it comes to understanding grammar, which means it’s doubtful they’re always going to know which word I’m trying to use. Which means there’s a good chance it doesn’t’ actually know if this word is spelled right or not. Did I want thereor their? Only one of them’s correct, and if I don’t know which it’s supposed to be…
F’r example, check out this list. I’ve done this sort of thing before. These are all words people used in articles on fairly popular, journalistic websites (some news, some entertainment) pared up with the word they meant to use. I’m willing to bet all those articles were spellchecked and given a good thumbs up from the computer, but the writer didn’t know the difference. Or maybe their editor. Or maybe both of them
reign and rein
Now, a common defense I see for this a lot is that I don’t need to know. Spelling’s not that important, and it’s all just an arbitrary constrict, anyway. Readers will get my meaning from context. If I meant polls and I wrote poles, when it’s actually in a sentence people will still understand what I’m trying to say
Yeah. Yeah, they will. That’s why most readers and agents and editors will excuse a mistake or two. We’re all human. We make typos. We get a little tired and bleary-eyed during that line edit the day before a book’s due (not that I’ve ever done that…).
But, y’see, Timmy, if I don’t know how to spell, if I don’t know my vocabulary, if I’m just depending on the computer too do it all for me… I’m going to make more of these mistakes. More and more, the longer my manuscript is. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them.
And, yeah, we’ll all gloss over one or two points where we just need to get it from context. Maybe even three or four. But there hits a point—and it really isn’t that high—where we start to wonder if this person really knows what they’re doing. Again, how many times do you really want to here your doctor joke “Wow, what do you think thatdoes?”
I’m making a lot of really blatant, basic mistakes in just three or four pages.
It’s understandable that they’d shake their head, scoff, and say “oh, no, good sir. Not you. Not today.”
To put it another way, we’d understand if I got rejected over that kind of thing.
And I don’t want to see anybody here rejected over that kind of thing.
Next time, I want to talk about what you can do. Or, really, what your characters can do.
Until then, go write.