Two Reasons Why Spell Check Is Not Your Friend

People who mean well—we all know a few, or are related to them. They’re the ones who ask what they can bring to the potluck dinner and we tell them paper plates, because any food prepared in their kitchen will probably have cat hair in it. They’ll promise a favor and forget about it, or do it, but mess it up. They may be the nicest people in the world, but they aren’t exactly reliable.

Spell check means well, too. But using it as your only editing tool and expecting a professional manuscript is as foolish as trusting my husband to go to the grocery store and return with the things I wanted instead of their crappy, cheap counterparts. Yeah, iceberg lettuce is totally the same thing as organic Spring Mix. Grrr. Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to Spell Check. We all know it’s great for obvious typos, and it helps out whenever you’re wondering about “i before e except after c” stuff, but it has its limitations—and these limitations will make you look like a damn fool in front of an editor or agent if you let them. So, here they are: The Two Biggest Pitfalls of Spell Check. Keep a lookout, or they may come back to bite your manuscript in the ass!

Pitfall Number 1: Homophones

These are the sound-alike words, also known as the bane of existence for many newbie writers. Principle/principal, affect/effect, peek/peak, everyone’s favorite there/their/they’re….. the list goes on (and on, and on). Any of these words, wrongly used, will sail right under Spell Check’s radar, and possibly good old Grammar Check’s squiggly green line of disapproval, too. The fix: there’s no easy one (sorry). Put the manuscript away for a while, and read it fresh. I read every line out loud. It not only is great at catching awkwardly worded phrases, but it also helps here, because the wrong homophone often looks funny. If recognizing homophone mistakes is not your strength, a critique partner can be invaluable.


Pitfall Number Two: Typing Errors that are Actual Words

This one gets me all the time. It must be my half-assed keyboarding style, or a bit of latent dyslexia, but there are words I habitually get wrong. A lot of times, it’s proximity of the keys. Other times, it’s simply transposing letters. This is where Spell Check usually shines, but my mistakes often spell real words, and that’s where it gets fun, especially if I’m on a roll and moving quickly. I now know my most common problem words, and I’ll do a Find and Replace to fix them—but whatever you do, don’t select Replace All! You will regret it. Here are my top three words to Find and Replace:

  1. Form– I almost always mean “from,” and I make this mistake ALL THE DAMN TIME. I use “from” a lot. “Form,” not so much. You probably won’t either, unless you’re writing erotica, your hero’s a lawyer, the “form” is a consent form, and the sex is about to get really weird.
  2. Fro– I mean to type “for.” On the upside, my ease of typing this word will come in handy when I finally get around to writing my Earth Wind and Fire fan fiction. That one‘s been on the back burner for a while.
  3. Id– A double-whammy, for both “is” and “if.” I don’t know, maybe it’s something in my subconscious making me do it.

I hope my experiences help you avoid running afoul of Spell Check, the well-intentioned aunt of Microsoft Word, and if you have any other pitfalls to add to the list, please comment and share them. Happy editing!

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