The fifth writing tip is about spelling.
Spelling slows our writing down. In fact, most anything related to grammar and spelling can slow you down when you’re obsessed with trying to write perfectly all the time; you can’t really get your words down. That’s why we like the first four tips we’ve shared with you to try to give you some room to learn. Spelling, in particular, is a pretty simple phenomenon. I must confess I kind of stumbled over this when teaching our five kids to be writers, as well as thousands of students around the world. This tip is profound and hard to grasp, because most people can’t believe it’s this is easy.
The 5th tip is this: there’s only one difference between good spellers and poor spellers. Which is that good spellers don’t guess.
That’s the difference. We wrongly think we have some genetic wiring that determines if we’re a good speller or a bad speller. That’s silly. What’s really going on is that you’re unpracticed or untrained. What a good speller will do is not guess. They’ll mark the words they’re not sure about, and come back and look them up. They’ll use a word they know how to spell. Poor spellers’ common mistake is that they guess how to spell. They think, “Well, close enough.” If you look at a word and you don’t know how it’s spelled, chances are you’re misspelling it. If you’re unsure, your odds of being right aren’t very good. Why don’t you just learn how to spell it, instead of guessing?
You probably have about 10 or 20 words you misspell frequently. Start by working on them and then work on some new ones. Once you know how to spell a word, you’re going to be okay. I mean you might have an experience like I had in second grade, where I forgot how to spell “the.” It was so embarrassing, but I did learn somewhere along the way to quit guessing. I learned how to spell words, or to look them up, or to use words I knew how to spell.
This 5th tip is important: if you want to be a good speller, just quit guessing. If you ever write down a word and you’re guessing its spelling, circle it and go back and write the correct spelling, or double-check it later. Quit guessing, train yourself to stop. You’ll never be a decent speller as long as you guess, saying, “Well, maybe that’s good enough anyway.”
-Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
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