When you should ignore spelling

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a post about when you should ignore spelling correctly…

I was going to say it’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about my children’s spelling. But that’s not true. My adult son is dyslexic and still can’t spell very well, even though he is incredibly smart. So I still worry about his spelling even though he has moved out and become self-supporting.

Still, when reader Russ Skinner sent me a link to a post from the blog Cult of Pedagogy, I read it and smiled. Headlined “Why is my kid allowed to make spelling mistakes?” the post addresses why teachers will sometimes “ignore” spelling. I liked this piece not just because my son’s life was made miserable when anyone focused on his spelling. I also liked it because it made so many effective arguments about why writers should delay editing their own work. Here is what writer Jennifer Gonzalez had to say:

“Too much focus on correctness interrupts the flow of ideas. Furthermore, teachers want students to understand that good writers revise their pieces many times for structure, development, clarity and voice. Although the mechanics are important for polish, correct spelling can’t make up for a poorly structured, underdeveloped piece of writing. And if a piece is going to be revised several times, it makes no sense to keep correcting the mechanics, only to have those words dumped entirely in a later revision.

I also like the metaphor she used to wrap up her argument:

“Producing a finished piece of writing is a lot like putting on a polished musical performance: It requires the synthesis of many skills, some of which need to be handled separately. Imagine if a band conductor brought a brand-new piece of music to her band and expected all sections to play it together, perfectly, the first time. Even someone with no musical training can see that this is an unreasonable approach. Instead, if each instrument section starts by practicing their part separately, the performers will get really solid on their individual parts before pulling it all together to refine the complete performance.”

If you still have kids in school, be sure to read this incredibly persuasive and well written piece.


Posted January 9th, 2017 in Writing about writing

  • Lost In Space

    Yeah I can totally relate. not dyslexic but a horrible speller and a poor typer (never got beyond about 18 words a min in school (am I aging myself here). So when writing I employ two rules. Typos get fixed afterwards, spelling, especially if it’s a word I use often I go back and correct to imprint it in my brain. It’s slow but I’ve almost got thier (their) down!

    • I also suggest that people turn off their spellchecker while they’re writing. Nothing worse than having your text filled with red underlinings when you’re trying to write.