Why it’s important to learn how to spell

I was lurking a writers’ forum yesterday and saw someone comment that it’s not important for a writer to learn how to spell, because spellcheck will find any spelling errors.  WRONG.

Sure, spellcheck is great for finding every instance of “hte” when I’m typing too fast and mess up “the.”  (Actually, auto-correct takes care of those before I can even register them.)  But what it won’t do is find those errors where you think you’ve written the correct word, because you know enough about spelling to be dangerous, but you’ve instead written a similar but completely unrelated word.

A couple examples from this past week:

“I shutter to think what will happen if any of you…”
“Not when you are going to work through the weekend to meet some ridicules schedule…”

Let’s start with the first example.  Shutter is a “mechanical device of a camera that controls the duration of a photographic exposure, as by opening and closing to allow light coming through the lens to expose a plate or film.”  Shudder is to “shiver convulsively, as from fear or revulsion.”

The second one is a little more obvious.  The word ridicules means “to expose to ridicule; make fun of.”  Ridiculous means “absurd, preposterous, or silly.”

This is also why you should always reread anything you write, even if you’ve run it through spellcheck.  I often type in the wrong word.  My mind misfires and I type in a word that starts or ends with the same sound and otherwise has nothing to do with the sentence I was writing.  Spellcheck will never find those errors.  (And 99.5% of the time grammar check won’t either.)  Usually I realize it about three words later and correct it right then, but sometimes it takes a second pass to see it.

If you’re just trying to communicate on some random forum, it doesn’t really matter.  Sure, some people will notice (like me), but they’re pretentious little asses if they point it out to you.  And generally they save it for when they’re losing an argument.  (“Yeah, well, I don’t think shutter means what you think it does.  So there.”)

I’m on a non-writing forum that I read phonetically, because the spelling of some of the users is so bad.  For most of those guys, spell check would catch 90% of their spelling errors, but they don’t care, which is fine.  I get what they’re saying and that’s all either of us needs.

But if you’re trying to write for a living (as either an author or in a professional field that requires extensive writing) you need to learn how to spell.

You may luck out.  You may get published because you only have one or two of these little guys in any given story and no one realizes that you can’t spell.  But what about a three hundred page novel?  How many of these mix-ups will creep into three hundred pages?

What are your chances of getting an agent if they know that they’ll have to read through everything you write with a fine-toothed comb?  How many books is an editor going to want from you if they have to do the same?  How much more brilliant will the other aspects of your writing need to be to overcome any grammar or spelling issues?

Why set the bar higher than it needs to be?  This is something you can fix.  And if you want to do this professionally, you should fix it.

(And, of course, by you, I don’t actually mean you.  I mean that other guy that can’t spell.  You, of course, are a brilliant speller.)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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1 Response to Why it’s important to learn how to spell

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