The more easily you write, the worse you spell?

Initially, I thought it was just me. I’d really get ripping on a story, sink into the flow of the thing, the world would go away, and my spelling would go to pieces.

Then I noticed that it went to pieces in a very specific way. I misspelled homophones. You know, the words that sound like words that mean something completely different, and are also spelled differently.

I spent some time thinking about this, and devised a theory about why it happened, but figured it was just one of my peculiarities.

Over the years, other writers would mutter something that sounded like the same problem, but nothing really pinged on me.

Then yesterday while I was doing revisions, I was also online with Jean, and, typing fast, I typed something like, “We’re having the same weather hear.”

And of course, caught it a second too late, and typed her the one word correction “here.”

She spotted it, and said she’d been doing the same thing more lately, and it was driving her nuts.

I’ve had to correct ‘thrown’ into ‘throne’ in the current revision. Multiple instances of to/too/two errors.

It’s always homophones for me. I’m curious if you’re catching yourself doing the same thing.

So here’s my theory.

When you’re in flow, the subconscious is in control of what you put on the page. The subconscious is not a picky speller. That’s the job of your internal editor, your conscious mind. Your non-muse, as opposed to your muse. Your muse is content that you got the word that sounds right on the page, because your muse hears and feels the words. It doesn’t process them as letters.

If this theory is true, then noticing that you’re making homophone errors in your writing would be a way of telling that you’d connected with your muse.

This theory may also, of course, be a load of horse hockey. But have you noticed anything like this happening to you when you write?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

21 comments… add one
  • Keely Jun 14, 2008 @ 22:13

    Eye do knot no what ewe mean!

  • m.rivera Jun 14, 2008 @ 16:56

    Happens to me as well. You’re theory, in my opinion would be correct–I know from my work in dream interpretations that the subconscious doesn’t filter the way the conscious mind does. The subconscious that operates in the dream state is also accessed through altered states such as the one induced during “the flow” of creative writing. Just as in dreams where some symbols are puns on waking events, in writing the filters for spelling are shut off and it results in a similar “pun” scenario because accuracy isn’t a concern of the subconscious. All the nit picky stuff, as you said, belongs to the ego of the conscious mind…

    Or maybe we’re just a weird bunch.

  • tambo Jun 14, 2008 @ 10:17

    I tend to make two completely different types of spelling errors when I write.

    If I’m typing fast yet not ‘deep’ into it (like chatting or early in the writing process), I make TYPING mistakes. My fingers reach for the wrong key, or skip keys all together. Dippy, stupid, embarrassing typos. I am a self-taught typist and I watch my hands most of the time (getting better at touch typing, though) but it doesn’t take much for my fingers to get going faster than my brain, if that makes sense.

    However, if I’m zoned into a story, my typing is pretty much flawless regardless of increased speed – I can tell how well I’m connecting with my muse by how many line edits I have, the amount drops dramatically when I’m zoned in. However, I will make occasional WORD mistakes, homophone replacements like you described, or have wildy creative spellings of words. I have typed ‘sed’ for ‘said’ many, many times. Fingers go on near flawless autopilot, but the word-creation part of my brain has reverted to second grade. lol

  • vanity Jun 14, 2008 @ 9:30

    It’s not really about spelling, Zoe. When I wrote “threw” instead of “through”, both words are spelt correctly. However, while both sound similar (to my non native speaker ears at least), only one makes sense in a given context.

  • Zoe Jun 14, 2008 @ 8:58

    I have to say, I’ve never noticed anything like that in my own writing. But that could just be because spelling is something I’ve never had any problems with.

  • LisaM Jun 14, 2008 @ 1:19

    I’m with Rick in that when I’m writing longhand I’ll sometimes add the last letter fro mone word onto the beginnin gof the next word, or else write the letter at theb eginining of a word onto the end of thew ord before it! 🙂 I have no idea why. I’ve often stared at a page of handwriting in disbelief, but until now I never considered there might be a good reason for it!

  • Charlene Teglia Jun 13, 2008 @ 23:47

    Oh, God, yes. And I like your explanation so much better than, “My ability to string words together is going to hell in a handbasket.”

  • tramseyer Jun 13, 2008 @ 19:41

    Thank goodness someone else is having this problem. I have noticed it more and more myself lately – I was starting to be concerned because speed and accuracy are two of my best typing points :).

    Maybe it’s catching? I will keep a closer eye on the other things you’ve mentioned too, just to be sure.

    Hope it’s not age related; I’m only 38! 🙂


  • Rick Jun 13, 2008 @ 19:28

    I’m going to have to break the trend here. I notice that I make a lot more mistakes, certainly, but usually things like “cetraliany” and “teh” and “thing slike”. I just decide that spacing and order of letters isn’t as important… it’s the thought that counts. Right? RIGHT???

  • DawnH Jun 13, 2008 @ 16:57

    It’s possibly but in my case I respectfully disagree. I have been making spelling and tense errors a lot lately, so I think it’s more of a disconnect between my brain and my fingers – the fingers type the familiar, and since most of my typing is writing related and past tense verbs, I end up using the past tense in my work unintentionally.

    It’s not a terrible thing – my fingers are just typing what’s familiar. I think. 😉 But it helps if I slow the typing down and actually read what I type while I’m thinking it, instead of thinking two sentences into the future.

  • arianrose Jun 13, 2008 @ 13:59

    I’ve noticed that my typing general degrades the more I’m in my world. But for me, homophones are just fine. I mess up words in which there are two consonant sounds like could be doubled, but only one doubled consonant. Occasion comes to mind as the biggest offender.

  • PJ Jun 13, 2008 @ 13:31

    I notice it most when I have a high word count night. When the count is a 1000 or so, not so much. But when it gets up to 2000+ for the day, then those slip-ups start appearing.

  • hollylisle Jun 13, 2008 @ 13:20

    Creating fiction is definitely a right-brain activity, while getting it onto the page is a very left-brain one.

    I would guess that the more you open the channels to the left brain and run heavy traffic through them, the more the left brain affects the activities it shares with the right brain.

    And for me, it’s so bad in some cases only someone else’s careful proofreading will dig out all the errors. I suspect I spend a lot of time in my left brain.

  • PolarBear Jun 13, 2008 @ 13:04

    I started noticing it five or six years ago and thought it might be age-related. Since Holly mentioned this, it was also about the time I got serious about writing fiction. I think the hypothesis is interesting, to say the least. The theory makes sense. I wonder if anyone has formally studied it or not.

  • Katherine Jun 13, 2008 @ 11:36

    I think you’re on to something. It happens to me too. Careful proofreading is the only cure I’ve found.

  • klharrds Jun 13, 2008 @ 10:11

    I do the same thing, more often when hand writing stuff then when typing and mainly with there and their.

    I used to incorrectly use there all the time, now I seem to have over compensated and their keeps popping up in unexpected places.

  • Jess Jun 13, 2008 @ 9:55

    I have this problem too, almost always homophones! That and the typos when I simply think too fast and my fingers can’t keep up.

    It always puzzles me when I go over something and I or someone else points out the homophone slip because I know I know better, so there has to be some explanation. I like yours. 😀

  • hollylisle Jun 13, 2008 @ 9:38

    Vanity–I was writing long before the internet was available. For me, the switch happened when I started writing fiction, and started to fall into my stories as I wrote them.

  • vanity Jun 13, 2008 @ 8:39

    I have noticed that on myself as well and my theory is this: Reading sloppy typing on the internet is deteriorating my own writing.

  • Gabriele Jun 13, 2008 @ 8:24

    For me it’s actually a sign that English has indeed become my language. I’ve seen a lot more written English than I heard it spoken, and thus I didn’t mix up homophones until recently because to me the words look different.

    But is has happened a few times during the last months. I think it’s the result that I think more in English than in German these days, despite the fact I live in Germany. I should go out more and speak my own language, lol.

  • anders Jun 13, 2008 @ 8:16

    I do exactly the same thing! Once I’ve gotten into flow, my writing goes to pieces over homophones. “Know” and “no” are the worst for me.

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