You are a Great Writer until You Are a Bad Speller

18 Mar

There are more than a few ways you can say, “I’m a writer” and then get laughed out of the room. Perhaps the best ways is to ignore spell check.

I’ve been a writer in one form or another for most of my life. I had my first piece published when I was nine years old and now (at way over 9 years old) I am still pecking away at the keys. When I was nine, Highlights Magazine published my short story and my mom spell checked it before I turned it in. (Thanks Mom) Now, my mom has had right about enough of my writing and I have spell check to fill in the space. And I use it….every, single day.

You might note that I claim to be a writer, but I have to tell you one thing I don’t claim to be is a speller; cause I’m not. One of the most annoying things in my life as a writer is to have someone turn to me and ask me how to spell a word that the average person would have no clue how to spell. They assume that because I am a writer, I must be an excellent speller…well…I’m not. In fact, I give spell check quite the run for its money most days. The thing is…I KNOW I am not a great spelling prodigy. I can tell a good story. I have all these voices in my head that I can listen to and then sort out until I have a mystery thriller that will curl your toes. What I am NOT is a person who can tell you how to spell words out of the medical dictionary. (raise your hand if you think most of those words are just made up any ways…) I’m a writer. You want a speller…Google “spelling bees”.

Here’s the thing though, you have to USE the spell checker if you are a writer. It is because of these very stereotypical ideas about what a writer is that you must use it. If you don’t, you’ll just look downright stupid. You might be a great writer but if your readers catch a spelling mistake every fifteen sentences, they will not see your story…they will see your spelling mistakes. True story…when I first started out as a reporter (I was 18 and still in college) I would write these great stories for the local newspaper and people will rave about how great I was covering the crime beat. Everyone, except a little 89 year old retired school teacher named Mrs. Burchum. She took my stories, cut them out of the newspaper and red-lined each one, highlighting every mistake. And then she would mail them back to me…I was crushed at first. Then one day she came into the office and asked for me. She told me that she loved my reporting and she loved my stories but, she hated my spelling. She told me that my editor was horrible and that if I wanted to be considered a good writer, I needed a better editor. I had to learn to spell, or she said, cheat, use a dictionary. Mrs. Burchum made sure that I understood that I was a good writer but that my spelling mistakes were hiding my talent. When she passed away four years later she left word that I was to write her obit. You can be sure that every word was spelled correctly.

Use your spell checker folks so that people will not be blinded by your spelling mistakes and see you for the really great writer that you are.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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About thewritersadvice

Jai is a full-time writer in the Pacific Northwest. An award winning journalist and published author, Jai writes mystery thrillers, ghost writes articles and books as well as feature articles for several national magazines.

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15 Responses to You are a Great Writer until You Are a Bad Speller

  1. karmicangel

    March 18, 2023 at 12:52 am

    Ok, could not agree more — AND I tend to write (at least consistently and successfully) long-hand, so you can imagine what that looks like in terms of damage to the English language. Suffice to say that one of the best things about transcribing into a word doc is that there is a lot of healing done to my poor poor writing.

    • thewritersadvice

      March 18, 2023 at 4:00 am

      I do like the idea of writing long-hand in order to see what it looks like. I think our minds have produced in that way for so long, at times, it is easier to see the flow. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Joe Pineda

    March 18, 2023 at 1:39 am

    You’re entirely right about spelling and spellchecking. Even if you claim to be the best of the best, you have to rely on quality of communication and expression, of which spelling is definitely a part of, whether we like it or not.

    I remember a couple times I got exasperated with people pointing out spelling errors when I had them read my stories. I wanted to read the story, not to check it for mistakes! But it’s a habit you can’t blame them for. I had to take responsibility then and correct my work.

    • thewritersadvice

      March 18, 2023 at 4:01 am

      Sadly Joe, I tend to see the spelling mistakes in other people’s work too…it is a habit. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Writerlious

    March 18, 2023 at 1:46 am

    So true! Why is it a typo here or there will ruin the greatest of pieces!? I love the redlining they have now so I see it’s misspelled before I even move on. :)


    • thewritersadvice

      March 18, 2023 at 4:02 am

      Thanks for your thoughts Erin. That red line has saved my behind more than once too.

  4. C Michael Baker

    March 18, 2023 at 3:10 am

    I have found that, while my spelling is usually correct, I tend to leave out small words here and there. It makes my writing read as though it were written by a caveman: “I am afraid I can’t make party this weekend. There a family event I need go to.”.

    Another gem I can often must rescind is inadvertently typing ‘not’ for ‘now’, or vice versa. It completely changes the meaning in the worst possible way — antithetically: “Thanks for helping me when my car broke down last week. It’s not working great! Anyway, I need go so I am now late for work!”

    But, as I said, actual mispellings are rare….Oh carp!

    • thewritersadvice

      March 18, 2023 at 4:04 am

      Michael you crack me up. I love the playful way you think about things. I do that as well. I am also gulity of the “a” or “An” sin. I mean one but end up typing the pther and then the spell check doesn’t catch things like that. (As is pointed out in another post)

  5. Carol Deminski

    March 18, 2023 at 3:34 am

    The very last line of your post above says: “Use your spell checker folks so that people will not be blinded by your spelling mistakes and see you for the really a great writer that you are.”

    Unfortunately, spell check will not catch extra words because the word “a” isn’t spelled incorrectly, regardless of the fact it shouldn’t be there.

    Similarly, you may want to change your About statement which appears at the bottom of your post. It says “A award winning journalist” which should read “An award winning…”

    I’m pointing these things out because I’d like to make a different point than your post.

    As writers it is in our best interests to read a lot, understand grammatical usage (I always confuse lie and lay,) and we should know how to spell. I mean that. You should not have to rely on spell check, which sometimes does not have the word you need embedded in it, or tries to substitute another word for the one you really wanted. If you must check the spelling of something, I’d strongly recommend a dictionary first rather than spell check.

    There is no doubt tools are available to help us as writers, and we can employ them at our discretion, but there is no substitute for having a solid vocabulary, knowing how to spell, and understanding grammar.

    • thewritersadvice

      March 18, 2023 at 4:09 am

      Thanks for your thoughts Carol. (Made those corrections too, thanks for pointing them out) I understand your position on using a dictionary and learning to be a better speller however what I want to convey is that a writer shouldn’t allow a lack of perfect spelling skills to stop them from getting their story out. A lot of people struggle with spelling and yes, using a dictionary is a good practice too however, using the spell check as another tool is a great idea too. As was evident in my mistakes on my blog, the spell check does not always catch the little goofy stuff you do such as using “a” where it should have been “an”. I guess the lesson there is to use spell check AND make sure you read your work out loud before hitting that submit button.

      • Carol Deminski

        March 18, 2023 at 4:28 pm

        Thanks Jai, I agree, using tools like a spell check is fine (although I still prefer using a dictionary and I personally don’t use spell check).

        In terms of your other comment “a writer shouldn’t allow a lack of perfect spelling skills…” I’d use an analogy.

        If a guy is taking piano lessons and has taken those lessons for a few years, we wouldn’t expect him to get a recording contract or to perform in front of a stadium audience. He might be good enough to play the piano at home, or maybe in front of his friends at parties, but he may not yet be good enough to have a large audience until he can play really well.

        Writing is one of those things a lot of people think they can “do” because they assume they know how to write a sentence. Knowing a few basics doesn’t prepare you to put together a well written story or novel.

        What’s kind of sad is I’ve read portions of some of the self-published novels people put out, and a lot of them are really poorly written. I’m not saying all self-pubbed novels are bad, of course, I’m simply saying the obstacles to self-pubbing have all but disappeared and now people are pumping out all manner of “novels” because they can, not necessarily because they should.

        Writing is an art. If anyone is serious about taking on writing a story or a novel, in my opinion they should be very well equipped to do the work. If they aren’t, they should recognize it and work a heck of a lot harder to compensate for any lack of skill on their part.

        By the way, I’ve never read any of your work and none of my comments are about your writings. :-)


      • thewritersadvice

        March 18, 2023 at 6:29 pm

        I addressed this in an earlier piece you can read here and I do understand your frustration with the quality of some of the self-published work out there. In my humble opinion, writers just need to use all of the tools out there and when they are thinking about publishing their work, be extra careful. It’s sort of like hitting that send button on an internet post…that’s gonna be out there for a long time…remember that it can be a reflection of your work. Thanks for your thoughts Carol. I have enjoyed them.

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