Holy crap this is post #600 here on the ranty blog. Six. Hundred. Take that, some other blog with less posts.
Anyway, we’re overdue to discuss that most favorite of topics… spelling. I know it seems silly that I keep revisiting this again and again. But there’s a reason for it–I’ve simply got to have a solid vocabulary if I want to be a writer. I need to know what words mean. I have to know how to spell them. I have to be able to tell them apart.
Over the course of my writing career, I’ve talked with lots of editors, a couple of agents, and a double-handful of directors for screenwriting contests. Pretty much across the board, they named spelling as the most common mistake they saw. Not subject matter. Not formatting. Spelling was the problem they saw again and again and again.
Which is why I tend to bring it up here at least once a year. If I’m spelling and using words correctly, I’ve just eliminated the most common problem from my manuscript. Seriously, think how many people that puts me ahead of in the selection process.
Check out this little list of words… and the words they were supposed to be. They’re from assorted books and articles I’ve stumbled across. Things that we can consider published (I’m not going to give anyone crap for typos in a tweet). The important thing is all of these are from people claiming to be professional writers.
going or gong
fair or fare
right or rite
root or route
milk toast or milquetoast
Personally, I think certain technologies have made spelling a hard problem for some folks to acknowledge. If you’ve been following the ranty blog for a while, you might remember me using this sentence a few times before…
While the first instinct is to say pretty much every word in that sentence is spelled wrong, the truth is—like the list above—none of them are. Oh, most of them aren’t the right word, yeah, but they’re all spelled correctly.
That’s what I’m talking about with technology. I ran this post through a spellchecker and it leaped right over that sentence. Because there aren’t any spelling mistakes in it. And so technology leads a lot of people to believe they’re much better spellers than they really are.
If I don’t know the difference between they’re, their, and there, I’m going to have a tough time as a writer. Same thing with its and it’s. If I think I know what anathema means (deadly poison, right?), but never bother to actually learn what it means (something I really dislike), odd are I’ll be using it wrong a lot.
And again, when I make these mistakes, my spellchecker’s still going to tell me my manuscript is fine. So some folks who are really awful at spelling never improve. They see no need to. After all, the computer’s got them covered and it told them all their words were correct.
That kinda blind faith is when things can get ridicules. Sometimes the spelling will be so off on a word the spellchecker flails for a second and throws out its best guess. And if I don’t know how to spell or what words really mean, I’ll probably just accept whatever the computer tells me.
Like up above. I meant ridiculous at the top of that last paragraph, typed out radekulos to make my point, and the computer thought the best match was ridicules. Because it doesn’t know what I’m actually trying for. I’ve mentioned once or thrice the manuscript I saw where the writer was trying for corpulent but assumed the spellchecker had made the right choice when it gave him corporeal.
I need to be able to spell. I need to understand the words I’m spelling. I can’t depend on my computer to do it for me because at the end of the day, computers are idiots. And idiots make lousy writing partners.
Next time… it’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about what you’ve got on under there.
Until then… go write.