Why you should learn to spell

by kipress

After circling umpteen incorrectly swapped instances of “your” and “you’re” in my first-year students’ screenplays recently, I engaged in water-cooler ranting with other instructors about spelling. Now, creative writing may not be the class where spelling counts the most, but don’t think that I don’t notice. Oh, I notice. As the the students in my second-year class now know from this morning, I am intimately familiar with the difference between an en-dash and an em-dash, and will fistfight typesetters on it if necessary. So yes, I notice when you don’t know the difference between a possessive and a plural, or “complement” and “compliment.”

Creative writing students sometimes come in with the attitude that, you know, it’s creative, so why does it have to be correct? Bad spelling tells me that you don’t care about your writing, that you aren’t serious about it, and that you probably don’t read very much, because the best way to spell well is to read lots. And if you don’t read much, how good will your writing be? Bad spelling crushes confidence: any confidence your reader may have had in you is gone.

I spent a while in the publishing trenches, reading the slushpile and writing the rejection letters. Manuscript readers get paid nothing or next to it, and have a gigantic pile of work in front of them, and it’s a thankless job. So, a spelling mistake in your cover letter? REJECT…. without even turning to your manuscript.