My name is Tom, and I can’t speel good…

All of us have issues in our lives that we have to overcome. Those annoying traits or tragic events that throw up obstacles along the pathways of life. Some of these, of course, are more serious than others. There are people in this world who, on a daily basis, have to suffer and face true adversity; battling disability, prejudice, misfortune or oppression.

In comparison, my obstacles are not all that impressive.

You see, the problem I am addressing today is that I am a terrible speller. And a terrible grammarer* at that.

There. See? Compared to losing an arm, or living under an oppressive regime that might execute me for my beliefs, or being ginger**, not being able to quickly and reliably recall the correct order of letters in the words of the English language is nothing.

But when it comes to being a writer, having problems with spelling and grammar becomes a fairly notable issue.

When I was ten, I had a spelling age several years below my own. Later on in life I learnt that this problem was most likely caused by learning to read too fast. My mother was an English teacher, and so as children my sisters and I were taught to read at a very young age. And apparently, a consequence of this can be that the brain learns to recognise words, but not necessarily the correct order of the letters within them. My brain skims the word, recognises it, and moves on without bothering the check each and every detail. Then, when it tries to recall the word later, it can’t.

Luckily for me, this was something that could be worked on. I had good teachers, including my mother, and so today I can proudly state that I am merely a bad speller, and not an abysmal one.

My poor grammar, on the other hand, is most likely down to never studying it after the age of eleven. As chance would have it, I had the same English teacher all the way through secondary school, and she focused all our work on literature, rather than language. I was quite happy with this state of affairs, and still am, as I much preferred reading the texts themselves over studying the cold, boring rules of the language. I learned grammar from reading it, not studying it. And while this is a fine way to learn your grammar, if you get to a point where you need to be able to analyse your own work it’s useful to be able to identify what is ‘technically’ correct, rather than what simply sounds right in your head.

I’m not as bothered about grammar, as it is far more fluid than many give it credit for.*** But spelling isn’t. And, as a writer, it is not an ideal state of affairs to be deficient in either. It’s fine to ignore something that some consider a fundamental part of a skillset, but you need to have mastered those fundamentals so you know what you’re doing wrong.

The answer to this problem is, of course, practice. While spell-checker is a lifesaver for someone like me, I refuse to use autocorrect. The only way to improve my spelling is by repetition, and autocorrect is simply preventing me from this all allowing the continuation of incorrect muscle-memory. But I endeavour, and I do what I can to improve my skills. And that’s part of being a writer. The more I do, the better I shall become. I know more about grammar now than I did several years ago, as I have made myself study the ‘rules’. Sometimes they are even useful.

At the end of the day, having perfect spelling and grammar is not vital to being a good writer. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to write. But if something is different from the norm, it has to be because of a conscious decision, not because you didn’t realise it was wrong. The finished product must be free of all unintentional errors, but if you recognise you are a poor speller, you can do something about it. You can set up tools and structures to assist you. Recognise the problem, and you can work on it so that you improve.

The bottom line is, don’t let a disability, any disability – no matter how small or seemingly trivial compared to others – get in your way of what you want to do.


* It’s a word, dammit! [noun] a person who does grammar

** The writer apologises for any offence taken by ginger people. He recognises they are doing the best they can with their lot.

*** I had a whole rant about grammar-nazis here, but I’ve cut it and saved it for another day.

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