Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Spell-Check is Your Friend. Seriously.

Long before I ever thought I was creative enough to write any kind of fiction, my relationship with the written word held a particular distinction. I was English Student of the Year in 9th grade. That was the year of sentence diagramming (among other things).

Let me tell you, I diagrammed sentences like nobody's business. I don't remember a lot of the specifics now, but it did give me a pretty solid hold on some tricky grammar, comma rules, and the like.

That was me and English for a long time. The Technician. I wrote perfect essays that were exactly what my history teacher wanted to see. I wrote killer research papers and aced my technical writing class in college.

These skills still come in handy now. Just ask Mindy McGinnis, whose comma splices I've helped hide from her editor.

In the effort to develop my inner novelist, though, I try not to dwell on those technical aspects. I even make a conscious effort sometimes to let them go, allow myself to make "mistakes" for the purpose of flow and voice. (This was easier once my linguistics professor taught me the difference between Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar.)

That aspect of my journey has helped me ease up on the "Fix It!" button every time I see a grammar or spelling error. (Okay, the reaction's still there. But not as violent as it used to be.) I'm sure other novelists are very in-the-creative-moment, especially when drafting, and leave those things to be cleaned up in editing/revising. To stay in that creative zone, they may even turn off the spell-as-you-go feature that pops up with those red/orange underlines when you misspell something.

Awesome. Whatever works for the individual writer.

But some seem to forget that we do need to run a spell-check eventually.

I know, spell-check isn't perfect. It's annoying when it dings every one of your proper names, or made-up words for another language, or even perfectly spelled calculus vocabulary. And it won't catch misspellings that happen to be proper spellings of other words. It won't save you on a "phase-vs-faze" debate.

I've heard some say they don't worry about such things, because that's what editors are for. Sure, editors should be able to catch the errors so subtle, your eye glides over them. But leaving flat-out wrongly spelled words that five minutes with spell-check could catch?

That makes it look like we don't care. It doesn't look professional. It doesn't look like we respect the agent/editor/other human being we're sending our work to.

So, my plea for the week. Save someone a headache. Show them you care.

Run a spell-check. :)

1 comment:

E.B. Black said...

It's best to give your editor the most polished manuscript you can. Even if you don't care how you appear to them, the more mistakes you have in your manuscript, the more likely your editor(s) are to miss some of them and the less in-depth they can get when correcting you.