Writing Right with Emer Stamp
You don’t have to write right to write.
I am quite possibly one of the worst writers of children’s books. Ok, let’s quickly qualify that before you dismiss my work. What I mean is that I am a technical disaster. I can’t spell for toffee and the rules of punctuation… well, I try my hardest. It’s not because I’m lazy. When I was at school I practised hard for my spelling tests, but I still got so many words wrong. And I still do.
Maybe you don’t believe me. All the words in this blog post are spelled correctly, after all. Well, I’ve partly my computer to thank for that (more on which later). If you need convincing, how about this? My name wasn’t supposed to be Emer. It was meant to be Emma, but I spelled it wrong as a child, and it stuck. My own name, a spelling mistake!
Now do you believe me?
I have a strong suspicion I am dyslexic – another word I can’t spell. Both my children have a diagnosis and my mum could only spell phonetically – I’m pretty sure it runs in the family. I see and get letters (and numbers) the wrong way around so yes, spelling is hard for me. There’s simply a whole plethora of words that I can’t get right – though I have just amazed myself by correctly spelling ‘plethora’ (small victories).
There are words that I sometimes get right and sometimes get wrong (definetly defintly definitely – that one always takes at least three attempts). And then there are the words that I simply can’t get right. I’ll type them over and over, but they are so misspelled that even dear old spell-check will draw a blank. And we aren’t talking big, fancy words – we’re talking the kind you’d find on my son’s Y4 spelling list. When this happens, I turn to my number one spelling hack, Siri (or Alexa if she’s closer). Siri knows how to spell everything. What a star he/she/it is.
However, sadly, there are instances when artificial intelligence isn’t able to pick up, or help correct, my mistakes. Like when I launched my ‘Diary of Pig’ series and wrote multiple Twitter posts about the ‘dairy of pig’. Spell-check saw no problem. I’d not misspelled the word. But, as you can see, it gives the phrase a very different meaning. Mmm – yummy pig milk. So embarrassing.
It happened again as we went into lockdown in March 2020. I posted (this time on both Twitter and Instagram for maximum shame) about how much I hoped ‘corvid’ wouldn’t stop the launch party for my new book PESTS. This wasn’t likely to be a problem, given corvid isn’t a pandemic virus, but the collective name given to birds in the crow family. And crows don’t even read my books, as far as I know.
I have, over the years, come to terms with the fact that spelling will never be something I am good at. Whilst some people learn words with natural ease, I never have, and never will.
But hold on, I write for a living. How does that work? Surely an author has to be good at spelling, right?
Wrong! Luckily for me, they don’t. Making sure every word in my books is spelled correctly is my editor’s job. And get this, if they miss a mistake, it gets picked up by the copy editor – that’s how thoroughly books get checked.
What I’ve got to be good at is storytelling. I’ve got to be good at coming up with compelling plot lines, memorable characters, page-turning drama. It is far more important that my words tell an exciting story, than whether they’re spelt correctly. Correcting bad spellings takes seconds; correcting bad plotting can take days, even weeks.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, I guess I want those of you out there who struggle with your spellings to know that I do, too. I understand how daunting being poor at spelling can make writing feel. It’s embarrassing making mistakes, I get that. Spell-check and Siri will help me with this piece, and before I publish it, I will have both my husband and my agent check it through. I’m not afraid to ask for help, because I know I need it and it will make my work better. So, you shouldn’t be afraid either.
It is far more important that you create work, than that you create work without error. I never expect perfection on the first try and neither should you. In fact, it’s barely perfect on the 6th or 7th try, but that’s another story.
Be brave, make mistakes, and ask for help when you need it. And hey, you never know, one day you might get to call yourself the ‘Number One Worst-Spelling Author in the World’.
All best, Emer (I prefer Emer!)
In writing this piece I misspelt the words:
Misspelt (who knew it was all one word!)
(these are the ones that spell-check did not auto correct for me – I’ve no idea how many times that happened)
Thanks to my husband, Adam, and my agent, James, for reading through my many drafts and helping make this piece as good as it could be.