It happens every year. The first time I take my 7th graders to the computer lab to start work on a writing project, they log into their computers, open up Word, start typing…and STOP. They might only be a sentence or two into what promises to be a brilliantly funny narrative or a sharply persuasive letter. But they stop, mid-thought…to run a spell check, because Word has drawn a squiggly red or green line under something they typed. It might be an incorrectly spelled word, or a sentence fragment, or it might just be someone’s last name that Word didn’t happen to know.
And all too often, the squiggly line means the end of productive, flowing writing for a while. The world of the story screeches to a halt while the student stops to select the correct spelling for a word or puzzle over why this software doesn’t recognize a really great stylistic fragment when it sees one.
As soon as I remember this STOP-SPELL-CHECK phenomenon, we take a break to talk about when computer tools are — and are not — useful. For many of us, having those squiggly red and green lines show up is like trying to write while sitting next to someone who leans over every couple minutes, gets way too close to your face, and whines, “You spelled that wrong. And that. And that, too.” Who wants to write with that guy breathing down your neck?
So one of our first lessons in the computer lab is on how to turn off “that guy.” Here’s a quick how-to guide for silencing the whining spell-check forever (or at least until your draft is finished and you’ve had a chance to make the meaningful, big-picture revisions).
At the top of your screen, click on WORD and select PREFERENCES from the pull-down menu.
Click on SPELLING AND GRAMMAR in the column on the left, and then find the two boxes that say CHECK SPELLING AS YOU TYPE and CHECK GRAMMAR AS YOU TYPE.
Click in those boxes so the check mark goes away. Then click OKAY.
The squiggly lines will vanish, and you (or your students) can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to the real work of drafting.
When we make books, proofreading is the last step for a good reason. Who wants to spend time and energy fixing mistakes in a sentence that may never see the light of day in the final draft?
Later on, it will be important to make sure the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are in good shape, but in a first draft, those issues can really interfere with good writing — getting vivid, unique ideas down on the page using just the right words. Let that come first, I tell my students. Let the story come first…and once it’s there, on the page, we can make it shine.