After jumping back into social media a few days ago, I already feel like there’s a bit of an elephant in the Facebook/Wordpress/Twitter room and I do need to confess something.
I’m not a spelling whiz or the most refined typist.
Thank you to those who have picked up on some of my faux pas: e.g. “looking backing.” (What a gem that was.) Having errors in your social media post is kind of like having your fly undone all day. It is a bit awkward when someone points it out, but in the end you are grateful for the observation and life goes on.
So, I think this is a great opportunity to talk about something that I sometimes genuinely struggle with … spelling and grammar.
When I was in my first year of uni, I wrote a science-y essay for my zoology class. I only just passed, which was fine because it was undergrad and I was just happy that my liver and I were here to see another day. But there was one comment from my lecturer that really got me. I’ll never forget it. It read …
“Riddled with typos. Not good.”
And trust me, even though it was coming from a zoologist, it wasn’t a nice sort of “CRIKEY, this is riddled with errors, mate.” It was a “GOOD GRIEF, ISN’T THIS JUST RIDDLED WITH TYPOS. NOT GOOD.”
I had already received many a scathing review in science i.e. “Did you make these numbers up?” – also circa 2010. I actually didn’t mind that comment, because at least it implied I had a bit of creativity. But this? This comment was black and white and it highlighted something that I already knew I wasn’t great at.
It made me feel like my typos had made my entire piece sick. Like I was slowly killing it off with every missing comma and every “i” and “e” I had around the wrong way.
I also started adding other words onto to the end of my review.
“Riddled with typos. Not good … enough for this career.”
I felt that way, funnily enough, because of good grammar. After the “not good,” my lecturer had placed a big, fat, well rounded full stop. Not a suggestion to look up resources to help my literacy. Just a full stop. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing I could do. My poor spelling had spelled out a career that would never involve writing.
Now, every part of my work life involves writing. I take whatever it is I’ve written (still riddled with typos), and I get out my dictionary and online grammar handbook (yes, they exist and are very useful). I give proofreading my absolute best shot (which usually leaves whatever I’ve written generously sprinkled with typos) and I send it to my scientific supervisors/critique partner/editor. Together, we work on it and slowly pluck out the typos until it was like they were never there at all.
What I want to say here is that your literacy level doesn’t have to determine your writing ability. These are some things you can do if you feel like you’ve got a basic understanding of the English language, but also feel like it’s the finer aspects holding you back from telling your story. Like …
1. Read. Get onto spelling and grammar resources aimed at adults (I’ve got some good ones if anyone wants some suggestions). Also, read other work that’s relevant to whatever you are writing about. Get a feel for the terminology and formatting used.
2. Use Grammar Nazis to your advantage. They may not have the same kind eyes and smile as the sorely missed Word Paperclip Helper, but spelling and grammar advice is what it is. Incorporate their corrections, thank them, and move onto the next sentence. I’m also always in need of a Grammar Nazi (not only do I misspell words, I often leave them out altogether).
3. Join a writing group or a support network. For my fiction writing, I’m a part of Romance Writers of Australia. This is just one group through which you can find a supportive critique partner to have a look at your work. I also had my manuscript assessed through Writers Victoria and was paired with the brilliant Alli Sinclair Author. Instead of throwing the book at me, Alli handed me some fabulous resources, which I regularly use.
4. Look into the services of an editor. If you’ve got a big, important piece that you need polished to a shine, there are people out there who have such a good eye for errors in writing that correcting them is their job.
6. Use a voice to text converter. Sometimes, I can get so stuck on trying to spell a word or just trying to form a coherent sentence that I stop writing. I know what I want to say, but it’s like my fingers won’t work. If you have this trouble, too, then use a voice to text converter so you can maintain some momentum.
7. Ask yourself some big questions. Can I create unforgettable characters? Am I able to communicate complicated information in a way that most people will understand? Am I able to write about dry subjects in a fun way? Do I have a unique perspective on the world? Am I highly experienced at bla, bla, bla and have a heap of knowledge to share? If you’re interested in writing, I bet you can answer “yes” to a few of those and that means you already have something inside of you that’s much harder to teach than spelling and grammar.
So, if spelling and grammar is fixable, then why don’t more adults ask for help? Because it’s embarrassing. It’s the literary equivalent of asking someone to hold your knife and fork for you at the dinner table. And what makes it even harder is that, so often at school, uni or work, we report to one person. It’s easy to think of one person’s verdict as gospel and if they say it’s bad then that’s that. Keep reaching out to other people with your writing and widen your audience. Ask for help. And don’t worry, while that means you might open yourself up to a few more people picking out what’s bad about what you’ve written, you’ll find so many more people willing to pick out what is pretty good.