Adventures In Spellcheck

January 1, 2013 by Sam Graber

Recently a respected and talented playwright I know forwarded to me a lengthy email war between himself and an artistic director.

It was one of those juicy email strings in which you could see the subtle jabs from the first email grow to outright lashings by the final volley. Full of emoticons I’ve never seen before. It was good entertainment for me, by which I mean a solid five minutes of distraction. Entertaining distractions equals happy playwright. You know what I mean. We all sit around wasting precious writing hours ensorcelled by YouTube and Google Images and that ridiculous site where the guy records himself blurting out everything he says in his sleep. Because the truth is that if we playwrights were all stuck together in an open field with nothing except a pen and pad of paper, within five minutes we would totally invent a game that involves a pen, a pad of paper, field dirt, and that one playwright who always seems to get produced but the rest of us can’t figure out why.

But I digress.

Here was an email chain.  From my playwright friend. Outing the artistic director who my playwright friend thought was contorting his precious script into a dramatic version of field dirt. However, and this is the rude awakening part of today’s Clickie as it applies to you, my playwright friend was the one who was coming across as the loser in this situation.

It’s called s-p-e-l-l-c-h-e-c-k.  Or spelled it, actually.

Each email my playwright friend had sent to this artistic director included many spelling mistakes. Some of them were outright embarrassing. Like my friend’s misspelling of ‘assonance’ and ‘pastoralism’. If you can imagine.

Now, let me be the first one to admit that spelling is not my forte (Italian for ‘crank that mother up’). I clearly remember those halcyon days of yesteryear in which I was painfully trying to make progress with my rudimentary schoolwork but could not get past the proper spelling of the word ‘committee’. It’s a simple word, committee. Couple ‘m’s, couple ‘t’s, couple ‘e’s. But like all simple words with catchy mnemonic devices, its spelling eluded me because the actual practice of ‘committee’ is the sinister work of politicians. That’s my motto: if I can’t spell a word, blame it on my elected congressional person.

And by the way, this was graduate school. Yes, there I was at two in the morning in group work with some seriously psychologically-damaged fellow graduate students who, while successful spellers, were waging their own sort of delusional academic superiority contest over whether our current sentence under construction as part of the group paper assignment would be better off with the em dash instead of the en dash. Not even joking. I submit to you that you have not endured hell on earth until you have sat there, exhausted, frustrated, working on a graduate-level case study with freaks from another part of the universe (respectively north California, south California) who demean your intelligence because you keep misspelling ‘committee’ but then launch into epic armistice over dashes.  With no alcohol involved.

But I again digress.

Actually, I’ll belay the return from digression, because what ended up happening is that I had to lead a mission to the professor of this graduate-level class and in the grandest tradition of postgraduate leadership, representing the finest American values, I presented to the professor that my group had irreconcilable differences, and that while I couldn’t exactly spell irreconcilable I knew it would be best if we shattered convention and each separately submitted his/her own paper for this group assignment. Which was my very first assignment in grad school. Yes. Not only was my group a failure, it was the first group of my grad school career. Nice job, me. And then it turned out the fourth member of the group who didn’t say a word and watched the rest of us flounder and fight over things like spelling and dashes pretty much submitted a paper that, while grammatically incorrect, ended up getting the highest grade in the entire class.  She now runs global branding for Coke.

But the point is –spellcheck. It’s a simple feature. You flick one option button and it turns on.  It saves you from embarrassment. In many cases, especially with online or cloud-based word processing, the spellcheck feature is built into the platform. An embedded tool to assure proper usage of grammar and punctuation. Right there. Waiting for you.

This may not seem important in the creative process. Your script lines could be inscribed by you into flecks of moldy tree bark and if the actors and production team can decode and translate to the stage, no problem. The audience isn’t reading your play.

However, I submit that spellcheck is important when engaging in industry communications. Most of our engagement with others in industry is through the written language. If our written language suffers from spelling failure, what does that say about our communication through the arts of letters and words? Furthermore, ongoing communication without checking your spelling demonstrates more than a lack of language command. It signifies a lack of courtesy. It can instantly disqualify you from any sort of consideration, especially with literary managers and editors of anthologies who care about spelling.

Another tip for you peeps – even with spellcheck the automatic corrector can mangle words. Like the time I wrote my lovely and sweet wife that I would be home at ‘six’ and of course it came across on her end as ‘I’ll be home after I DAMN WELL FEEL LIKE IT’. I hate it when that happens. So the tip – read your communication backwards before sending. Out loud. It forces you to focus on the grammar as well as the corrected spelling.

In closing, by the time my assigned group was forced to reconvene for its second graduate-level class project, it got way awkward. The one guy from north California got so frustrated he threatened me with physical violence which got him an expulsion warning from the school. Seriously. I guess I’m proud of myself for not fighting back. But then I bet this kind of thing doesn’t happen at the Yale Drama School. No, the Yale Drama School I’m sure is the kind of place where playwrights don’t take problems up the chain to the professor and where they don’t flinch at the prospect of zesty altercation.

They leave it for email.