Tuesday, August 30, 2011

3- The Perils of Spell Check

Seven Reasons Why Spell Check isn't Enough

I firmly believe that no matter how good a writer you think you are, you need someone to proof or line read your article, novel, script, or thesis before sending it off.  Too many things slip by unnoticed when you've worked with the same document for a long period of time.  I have to grit my teeth when I hear someone say that their script or novel draft is "about the story" and the spelling or grammar doesn't matter.  It does. It is part of the craft of writing.  Learn it.  And since Spell Check came along and seems to be on everything from Word documents to script programs to Hotmail, there is really no excuse not to use it.

There are things that Spell Check can't help us with, though, and this is why we need a professional human proof reader.  So, assuming you have already diligently put your document through a spell checker, what type of things does a proofreader look for that a spell checker has missed?

We all make mistakes when we write. That's a given.   Anyone who sends text messages knows how sneaky the auto-correct function of spell check is, changing a word just as you hit send. And when you are doing a larger document you are typing quickly, editing as you go, changing tenses, adding and subtracting text.  A slip of the finger on a key, and what we intended to say - "They are great assets" - becomes - "They are great asses".  

There are no red lines under any words signifying a spelling mistake, as the words are all spelled correctly.  At a quick read-over, we would probably skip right over this blunder.  A good proofreader will catch these unfortunate blunders and ask, "Did you really mean to say that?"

There's a classic scene in one Friends episode where Chandler and Joey are talking, and Chandler says he hates when people pronounce it "supposably".  When Chandler leaves, Joey considers the word.  "Supposably.  Supposably."  He tries it out in dialogue.  "Did they go to the zoo? ... Supposably." 

So now I can't use the word supposedly without double checking.  Supposedly?  Supposably?  Arg!  And by the way, there is such a word as "supposably".  It's the adverbial form of the adjective "supposable" which means "that can be supposed or conjectured, like a supposable outcome" or "capable of being conceived or imagined". (My Spell Check keeps trying to change supposably to supposedly as I type this.)

Another word consistently used incorrectly is "literally".  When I read "the man was literally dancing on cloud nine", I have to ask, "Really?  Literally?  He was literally dancing on cloud nine?"  If you were to write "the man was dancing on cloud nine", this is understood to be an idiom and the intent is understood.  This is one happy guy.  But he is not literally dancing in the clouds.

These are words which sound the same but have different meanings and spellings.  They are also easy to confuse, especially when writing at two in the morning.  Some examples are: waist/waste, two/too, their/there/they're, pair/pear/pare, peek/peak, rain/rein/reign 

One very common mistake is its/it's .  When I first started to write, I put this on a sticky note by my monitor.  it's=it is (or it has)  its=belonging to it  

On occasion, we discover that we've been hearing a word or expression wrong for years.  I was out of high school before I found out that it wasn't "the place next store" but "the place next door".  It had always seemed a rather dumb expression to me before that.  Spell check doesn't catch these mistakes.

In another scene from Friends, Joey refers to something as a "moo" point rather than a "moot" point.  When questioned, he says the argument was "like a cow's opinion.  It doesn't matter.  It's moo."  In his world it made sense.  I attempted to type  "moot point" once and the spell checker converted it to "mute point", which has given my proofreader something to chuckle about for years.

I am based in Canada, and if I am writing for an American publication or publisher, I want to make sure my spelling is correct for that country.  Spell check doesn't always catch the grey/gray words or if there is one letter L or two letter Ls in travelling. And, after reading a lot of scripts and articles written by Americans, I don't think they have any better grasp of the differences between British and American spelling than do Canadians.

I hear English spoken incorrectly all the time, and by so-called educated people.  Spell Check isn't a Band-Aid for poor grammar.  The words in the following sentence are all spelled correctly and would not be flagged.  "Me and him are going to the concert."  (Should be: "He and I are going to the concert.") 

Every time I stumble across one of these, it jars me away from the story, script, or article.   A few examples are:
* Breath/Breathe 
* Access/Excess
* Choose/Choice
* Rise/Raise
* Lose/Loose
* Past/Passed
* Than/Then
* Already/All ready

Note: While "already" and "all ready" have different meanings and are two separate words, it is frowned on to use "alright" as a shortened form of "all right".  It does not have a separate meaning, and is simply a spelling mistake that has become so common, it is now accepted in some circles.

So, once you have finished your document, by all means run it through spell check, but also take the time and effort to have a proof reader look over your novel, script, or article before sending it on to publishers or producers.  It'll only make what you have written clearer, easier to read, and more professional.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

2- Taking Advantage of Moments

I often hear people saying that they'd love to write a novel or the story of their life or a book of poetry down the road when they retire, or when they have more time or money, or when their kids have grown.  Others have said that they need to have just the right get-away place--a cabin in the middle of the woods or a vacation spot on the water--in order to be inspired to write. 

What would make up the perfect conditions to write?  The perfect setting?  Is it a place of peace and quiet? Or the back booth of a noisy coffee shop?  Is it having the right computer and ergonomic desk and chair?  The right software or writing program?

Or is simply taking those first steps, regardless of life's circumstances?

Today was the funeral of Jack Layton, the head of one of Canada's political parties, who passed away suddenly after losing a battle with cancer.  He was hailed today as a "caring, passionate voice in Canadian politics who died at the pinnacle of his career."  While listening to the eulogy at his funeral, I was moved by what his son said about a trip his father had taken him on to teach him to sail.  Unfortunately, there was no wind that day, and they ended up marooned in the middle of the lake.  Undaunted, his father proceeded to teach him everything he could about the boat and sailing while they sat there.

Jack Layton told his son, "You can wait forever for perfect conditions, or you can make the best of what you’ve got now.”

So today I'm writing about making the best of what you've got now.  You may truly not have time to sit down and write now, but you can start the process.  You can take advantage of the moments.  Ideas come to you--if you are paying attention to them--at the most inconvenient times.  When you are dashing off to work in the morning, when you are watching the evening news, when you are waiting at a traffic light or picking up the kids from daycare.  They wake you up in the middle of the night.  They hit you while you are in Safeway shopping for groceries.  Or you finally figure out that illusive plot point while driving home from work.
The goal of a writer is to capture that moment, that thought, that idea, before it vanishes.  The likelihood of you conveniently being at your computer at the moment inspiration hits is slim.  John Lennon penned the words to "Imagine" on a napkin from the New York Hilton.  He wrote “Give Peace A Chance” on a small piece of paper.  That little scrap of paper sold for US$833,654 at a Christie’s auction in London.  Like John Lennon, writers will frantically use anything at their disposal to get the idea down on paper before it's gone.  A napkin.  A sticky note.  An index card.  A ripped page from a notebook.  I've used the back of checks in my checkbook,  or written on the palm of my hand.

Many writers carry a little notebook with them everywhere they go, just to have it handy to capture the idea or move a potential line of dialog from their thoughts to paper.  Think of your notebook as a spare brain dedicated to writing.  And now with the convenience of smartphones, some find it easy to use the note function on them or the voice memo.

It may not be the perfect time for you to write that novel, but if you can capture the ideas and the scraps of dialog and the images, you'll be miles ahead when you are ready to sit down and write, whether that's in a week, a year, or ten years--your ideas will be there waiting. 
"You can wait forever for perfect conditions, or you can make the best of what you’ve got now.” 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

1- There Are Always Possibilities

It seems like such an easy thing to say.  "There are always possibilities." Maybe it's just the "glass half full" part of me that believes this. My Pollyanna hat, as some friends say.

Years ago, I belonged to a writing club, and we published a newsletter with short stories and poetry, mainly of a science fiction theme.  The group motto was: "There are always possibilities".  When writing science fiction or fantasy, there are always options.  You can do whatever you want with your character--have them suddenly have the ability to fly, shrink them to the size of an ant, or even have them meet William Shakespeare.  The power is yours.

The same in our everyday life.  We are limited only by what we cannot imagine.  I used to live in a Safe House for battered women as a liaison worker in the home.  I would have weekly chat sessions with the women in the house, and I was at first shocked that few of these women had any kind of image of themselves outside of the situation they were in.  

I would pose a question.  "If someone offered to pay for your education for four years so you could go to college or university, and they would pay your rent, your food, your transportation and child care--what would you study?  What job would you love to do?" 

They couldn't come up with an answer.  The idea of getting out of their situation wasn't even a possibility for them.  For many of these women, actually attending college or taking courses, especially with government funding and grants available, was a very real option for them, but because they could not picture themselves ever succeeding in this way, they were unable to take that first step.  In fact, two-thirds of the battered women in that Safe House would go back to the person who had beaten them up.  He was better than nothing, they felt.  Maybe he would change, they would say.  

There are always possibilities.  True.  But only if you are willing to look for them.  Only if you are willing to step out of your 'safe' box, and explore the unknown.  
~ ~ ~

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined."  Henry David Thoreau