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The Spellers, the Non-spellers, and the Spellbound

RedWriterMyth: Writers don’t need to worry about spelling because their editors will take care of it for them.

Truth: Writers care about their ideas and communicating those ideas clearly to their readers.  They use every tool they can to explore their ideas, in draft after draft, often inventing a new process for each novel they’re writing.  They cut and shift around chapters, write in and delete characters, streamline plot threads, lop off endings, try new ones, and get lost in research of obscure facts.  They confer with their editors about their characters’ motivations, how best to show a character’s change of heart, when an emotion is convincingly earned, and whether a love triangle is worth including.  In all this thinking about characters and story, the writer is using words on a page, and as the draft comes closer and closer to being ready for readers, the writer focuses more and more on clearing up any ambiguity, including catching any misspelled words.  The editor catches what she can, too, and when the book is as polished as they can make it, they send it to the copyeditor and the proofreader, who check for consistency of details, spelling, usage, and grammar.  Then the editor and writer read the manuscript again to see if they can catch any other distractions.

So spelling matters.  It’s just a very small piece of what it takes to write a novel.

Curiously, some beginning writers and teachers focus on correcting misspelled words even before ideas are developed.  This is probably because spelling errors are so obvious and easy for teachers to see.  The risk, unfortunately, is that some students come to believe that writing is mainly about being told they’re doing it wrong.  They worry about having their mistakes circled when they could be rejoicing in telling a story.  They’re putting their audience (the teacher) before their creativity.

If I could, I would say to these writers, just write the words however they come.  Get them down.  Plunge off the gangplank into the sea of your story, and think about the spelling later, after your character has learned to swim.

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