Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spellchecker Rant

Okay, so I'm reading though and it takes me about two sentences to identify that it is Spellchecked. I have ranted about spellcheckers before, but let me be 100% clear on this: Spellcheckers are the worst things to happen to amateur writers since Papermate Erasable Ink Pens(*).

(*) Papermate Erasable Ink Pens smelled horrible and, what's more, DID NOT ERASE, at least not completely. In grade school and junior high, we thought these were the best things ever. When our sadistic teachers would demand that we take our tests IN INK (for some odd reason that I find hard to process even now--something about how if we made mistakes we'd have to cross them out and they could see every mistake?), we would gleefully whip out our erasable pens and take the tests, secure in the knowledge that we could cover up our errors if need be. Of course, we never could, because the pen always left faint lines. Did I mention the smell? Still, it's interesting in that it was, I believe, my first experience of a technology vs. authority arms race. The teachers did eventually forbid the use of erasable pens in ink-only test taking, but at that point we were in high school and didn't care.

This manuscript that I was reading had every word spelled correctly. The problem was that the correctly-spelled word was, almost more often than not, the WRONG WORD. A spellchecker will not tell you that "where" is wrong in the sentence, "My parents where sad." It will not pick up the mistake in, "I came form a small town." It will not, further, tell you that the sentence, "I found my father in the shed we called it that, even though it was a garage that, we could have parked a car in if we had on, doing drugs" is an abomination.

What a spellchecker will do is give you the illusion that it is editing your manuscript for you. "Just run it through a spellchecker before you hand it in," the amateur writer's instinct, with all the wisdom of Candlewick, tells him. And so he does so, congratulates himself on catching all those misspellings, and turns in his manuscript.

There is no substitute for reading through and editing your own work. No spellchecker, no grammar checker, no proofreader can do this for you. Yes, it's not as much fun as the writing part. Yes, there are often two or three words at a time that don't need any more editing. But yes, it is an essential part of being a writer. And when you turn in a spellchecked manuscript, it is blindingly, glaringly obvious that you are missing an essential component of being a writer, and the manuscript reader will treat your manuscript accordingly(**).

(**) In my case, writing blog posts about it and complaining about it to my friends.

1 comment:

Renee Carter Hall said...

Amen. And MS Word is not necessarily an authority on grammar, either, especially as it relates to creative writing.

Interestingly enough, I see the term "editor" get tossed around online to mean "beta reader who corrects all my spelling and grammar errors," which makes me wonder if these people think real editors are going to do the same thing for them. (Aside from the fact that, to me, expecting a beta/critiquer to do all those corrections qualifies as beta reader abuse.)

You've gotta learn it yourself -- it doesn't happen overnight, but you have to make the effort to learn the basic craft of writing. Otherwise, it's like being a carpenter who can't hammer a nail straight.