Friday, May 8, 2009

Check One-Two

By Kelli Collins

Once upon a time, if an author wanted to woo me, he or she could merely utter one magical word to get me all excited…


(Okay, so maybe it’s two words, depending on which dictionary you check. Don’t get me started on that particular paradox).

These days, being the cynical bitch that I am, I need more stimulation. I mean, let’s face it—everyone uses spellcheck. Right?


Crazy, isn’t it? As shocking as it sounds, though it’s been drummed into their heads by every editor in the land, despite its place of honor on every Writing 101 list, scads and scads of authors still don’t use spellcheck. I’m at the end of my rope, people. That’s right. I said it. I’m dangling like the proverbial participle, one sweaty palm-length away from falling into the abyss of misspelled hell. I’m thisclose to blaming text speak…but that’s another blog.

Sure, authors swear they’re taking the two extra minutes required to check. Then why am I still finding errors? Let me guess—your evil Vista has it out for you. Or it’s some magical tech phenomenon occurring as your manuscript careens through cable and DSL lines. Or tiny Novel Gnomes, sneaking onto your computer at night and inserting errors as fast as their little fingers can fly.

Yes, I know spellcheck won’t catch “typos” that result in actual words, those errors that can honestly occur when typing too fast or whatever. (From/form being the most frequent example.) But then, that’s what proofreaders are for. You do have an experienced proofreader (with references!!) at your disposal, right? And for the severely dyslexic authors out there, I’ll correct your minor errors all day long. I’m not that heartless.

But barring a learning disability or an honest mistake that spellcheck won’t catch, you won’t get a break from this particular editor. I’ve turned down submissions based on synopsis alone, leaving the story unread, upon finding oodles of egregious spelling errors. Let me break my opinion down for you: If you’re a writer with sincere publishing aspirations, writing is not a “hobby”, it’s not a “creative pursuit”. It. Is. A. Job. And, like any job, it requires you arm yourself with the necessary tools and skills to be successful. You think that guy digging ditches hasn’t bought some kickass gloves? Think that UPS employee hasn’t learned to lift with her knees?

For writers, proper tools can be expensive—I get it, I really do—but spellcheck isn’t. Comes with every version of Word known to man, in fact. And a simple press of a button could mean the difference between a manuscript getting read…and getting tossed in the slush pile.

For your amusement/amazement, misspelled words found in synopses in one week:


Note: Because my grammar/spellcheck is on at all times, the above words were lovingly underlined in red, making them even harder to miss. For shame.


Kimber An said...

I couldn't live without Spellcheck. There are words I misspell every single time, no matter how many times I go back and correct them. It's like I have damaged brain cells right in the area where the correct spellings are stored.

Anonymous said...

areolae (plural of areola) is spelled correctly according to Merriam Webster, amongst others.

As for the rest, yeah, that's just sloppy.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I can't find "areolae" in my beloved M-W (EC's dictionary of choice). At least, not the particular print copy sitting on my desk. But I do find "areolas" (EC's spelling of choice).

But I'll give you that one, Anon; thank you for pointing it out. And I'll also be more careful of forcing EC-specific style and spelling preferences on our loyal R&D readers.

Kelli C

Bill Greer said...

Watt wood edit tours due if wee dint gift hem sum ting to fix?

(Hey, no complaints from Word's spellchecker. Now I'm ducking for cover!)

Anonymous said...

Lol! Nobody likes a smarty-pants, Bill...

Oh wait. *Everyone* loves a smarty-pants. What was I thinking? Carry on. And kudos for going through the trouble!


Ann Bruce said...

Spellcheck's nice, but nothing beats printing out the double-spaced MS and going over it with a red pen.

Ann Bruce said...

@Anonymous - I sometimes forget to use American spelling and spell center as centre. I keep having to tell people I'm not stupid, I'm Canadian.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Ann! I love my red pens.

Joe said...

Because of the demands of Web publishing, the alt-weekly I edit for is considering instructing the authors to write directly into our site's back end. The site's spellcheck free back end.

Not only that, but we're having style conflicts with Word — not only in Word's ability to interface with Adobe InDesign, but with Word's ability to interface with earlier versions of itself as well.

But I keep fighting for Word. Not because I love Microsoft (typing on a Mac right now), but because Word is the standard, we all use it, and it has spellcheck built in. If you're an author and you're not spellchecking, hang it up. You're done.

Mari Freeman said...

Even with the dyslexia, effort makes all the difference. Spellcheck is a lifesaver. I use it and I LOVE it.

Proofreaders are a must. I had to go through a few before I found the right ones that work well with me and my issues.

Ann - Keep your red pens to yourself. LOl. I hate a red pen. Sorry, symptom of the dyslexic English student.

Christina G. said...

Joe, could you guys use Firefox to do that? At least it would underline misspelled words with red.
If not, your pub might consider InCopy. Expensive but works like a charm with InDesign!

Joe said...

Hey Cristina,

I use Firefox and it's no help in our back end. As for InCopy, we use it now but it too has trouble with styles importing from Word and screwing things up if not done properly.

Of course, the fact that we're still on CS2 might have something to do with that as well.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I can't even begin to comprehend your pain. Well...maybe a little *wink*.

I'm not surprised your newspaper is considering this. Web-first is the way of the future, after all...right after aggregated content. Who has time for old-school crap like editing? Just throw that stuff on the site and keep writin'!

But look on the bright side: If it's your journalists who are required to enter content onto the site, as least their grasp of spelling and grammar should be pretty good.

On the other hand, if you're publishing user-generated content like most papers these days, well...good luck. :)

Ardent alt-weekly fan...


Anonymous said...

Dont blm mea. Itz that damnd inventiv spelng thay taut us in skool yearz ugo.

Ann Bruce said...

Mari - I don't have proofreaders or beta readers (scary, isn't it?) and I miss too many things with on-screen editing, so I need a hard copy and a red pen.

But no worries, I'll stay away from you. No one in her right mind would want me to edit them. I leave notes like "WTF?!?" and "A monkey can do better" on my own MS.

- Former English major...who then sold her soul to big business

Ann Bruce said...


Sentence should be: "No one in her right mind would want me to edit her work."

(See? I so need a hard copy and a red pen.)

Mari Freeman said...

Ann - Okay. You can edit me but not my manuscripts. LOL

OT- word verification for this post:
I know it's misspelled, Kelli. I'm just saying.

Wylie Kinson said...

LOL at Ann's "I'm not stupid, I'm Canadian".
In fact... I may just use that when you find a legitimate spelling mistake, KC... "But that's how we spell orgazm in Canada!!" tee hee

Anonymous said...

My characters titled their heads all the time.

I've also cut down on using different word processors when I'm in editing mode. Different processors spell certain words differently. Go figure. So if the word is spelled wrong it's at least spelled wrong consisitently.

Anonymous said...

"spelled wrong consistently" :)

That's entirely valid...and useful.


Anonymous said...

LOL, Ann at the "I'm not stupid, I'm Canadian." I am as well, but have been sufficiently Americanized in the spelling dept. But I also don't flinch at British/Canadian spellings, whereas I listened to a former boss go off on an employee from India who kept spelling words like "spelt" and "organised", etc. The coworker was dumbfounded. I mentioned the difference in spelling and then the manager was dumbfounded...and embarrassed.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Great post.
Let's not forget you can set spell checker for the particular country you are submitting to as well.

Which really helps me down here in Australia writing for a British publisher.

Dalton Diaz said...

Yes, but Vista is still evil!