I am not a great speller. I wouldn’t say I was a terrible speller either, but I doubt I’d get many rounds into a spelling bee. I subscribe to two online dictionaries—the Macquarie and the OED—so I can check and double check words that look wrong to me1. For the last few years many words have looked wrong. Mostly because I spend part of my life in a country that spells differently from where I grew up. I don’t think it would be an issue if I were a solid speller, but because I’m not I live in a state of constant confusion.
I am not alone. I know lots of writers who are only av. spellers like me. I know a few who are TERRIBLE. I will not name them—they know who they are. Hello, Sarah! But, for example, Samuel R. Delany is dyslexic. Great writer, not so great speller.
I bring this up because I keep seeing over and over again in flamey online writing discussions people declaring that someone else will never make it as a writer because they can’t spell.
Usually the comment they’re responding to is terrible for lots of reasons, such as badly constructed sentences, being illogical, ungrammatical, as well as poorly spelled. If the sentences were gorge, made sense, and were grammatical, a few wrong spellings wouldn’t be that big a deal. They’re not when you hand your ms. into your editor.
Also, hastily written, off the cuff comments and emails do not equal a polished gone-over-a-billion-times manuscript.
I truly doubt that an agent or editor—unless they’re totally pedantic crazy people—would pass on a genius ms. because it had some spelling issues.
Not being able to spell does not make you a bad person or a bad writer. It is not a moral failing. It just makes life a little bit harder for your copyeditor and proofreader.
Update: Okay, this is an irritable update as people seem to be thinking that I am saying there’s no need to proofread work before submitting. Au contraire! Of course you proof your work and get other people to look at it before submitting. Especially if you’re a crap speller. All I’m saying is a career as a writer is feasible even for those of us who can’t spell.
- Oh, okay and so I can spend hours finding out if “grunch” and “flird” etc. are real words. [↩]