To Spell, or Not to Spell, That is the Question—Cont.

My last post on spelling and grammar hit nerves around the world. Comments varied, but one way or another, all support spelling. Some also exposed a couple of Inner Critic origins: fear of appearing stupid, and teachers (of all sorts) who feed that fear. Penelope expressed the thought in a comment that you can’t teach people to write from their hearts, “except, of course, to tell them to stop worrying about grammar.” Ybonesy recalled the horror of spelling bees. Pat shared the story of her son, whose creative writing instructor committed homicide on his desire to write. Leah, agreed that getting the story out is primary. Ken, a young man from Singapore, supports learning spelling and grammar, even if they are “broken” in daily use.

Experience supports claims such as the ones expressed in comments that teachers care often involved in the primary care and feeding of Inner Critics. When I have students come to class confessing something like, “I started to write ... ages ago ... but I took a writing class and when the instructor told us (we had to get up at 5 am every single day and write for two hours, or never to end a sentence with a preposition, or all work had to be in 12 pt. Courier font, double-spaced, or ...) I just gave up,” I get angry! My face turns red, and adrenalin flows. I flay those instructors to bits, for all to hear.

Write when you feel like writing,” I rage, waving my whole body. “Write in the middle of the night if you want. Write every day at the same time, once a week on Sunday afternoon, or only when your muse nudges you. The important thing is that you do write!” I go on to emphasize that the story is what matters, and until the story is written, there is no reason to even think about spelling and grammar.

When I work with students, whether that’s in a workshop or coaching, my primary focus in on contents. Most need help first with finding and writing their memories and stories. If some students have the basics down and wants to take their writing to a higher level, we can work on that, but only when they are ready and express that desire.

Those who do want to share stories more widely, and perhaps publish them one way or another, are likely to want to take their writing skills to a higher level. This is the time to get serious about editing. Even then, in classes and my book, I urge them to get the contents in good order, making sure they have covered the bases on the 5 W’s and arranged the contents to flow smoothly before they delve too deeply into grammar. Spelling is generally easy to do early in the game, with spellcheck. However, we all know that write, rite and right will all pass muster with spellcheck.

Believe this truth in your core: Write from your heart, and other hearts will understand. And be very careful who you listen to for advice. If a teacher, or anyone else, pours cold water or red ink on passionate writing, insert earplugs until you can flee!

Write now: about a time when criticism stopped you in your tracks. This doesn't necessarily have to be about writing. Write about your feelings after being judged harshly in any respect. Share the story or shred it, as you see fit.

1 comment :

Pat's Place said...

I totally agree that spelling and grammar are important in the end product, but can be neglected in the initial effort to get the ideas down on paper. I always tell my writing groups (many of whom stopped writing rather than contend with their inner critics spawned by hyper-critical English teachers) that they can always find someone "out there" to do a final edit on their writing if they are concerned about proper grammar, and spelling is made easier with spell check--most days. Nice discussion of the pros and cons of this topic!