Get It Right!

If you read this blog regularly, you already know how much I enjoyed the movie Hidden Figures. It’s the true story of three African-American women who quietly made a huge contribution to the success of the US space program. The topic is math, but there’s a lesson for writers as well.

If you’ve seen the movie, you remember the tense preparations for John Glenn’s trip into space – the first time an American was scheduled to orbit the Earth. It was all about math. The numbers had to line up perfectly. Could he trust NASA’s calculations?

What Glenn did was to ask for Katherine G. Johnson to check the figures. He had total faith in her math ability. If she said it was ok, he would go up.

She said it was ok, and John Glenn indeed orbited the Earth in Friendship 7 – and made it back to Earth safely.

Last year, at long last, Katherine Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But what’s the connection to writing? Here it is: If you’re a serious writer, you want that same reputation for accuracy and correctness. That means fact checking (I use Google a lot), relentless proofreading, and double-checking even the pickiest details about usage.

Let me give you an example from today’s post: Is it Katherine Johnson – or Catherine, Kathryn, or Katharine? Do you think it matters? I do – and yes, I double-checked the spelling of her name.

If you want a reputation as a consummate professional, there’s hard work involved.

It’s a reputation worth striving for. Here’s how I look at it: Before I decide to trust what you’re telling me, I look at the whole package. If you still haven’t figured out how to use apostrophes and quotation marks, I’m going to wonder what else has slipped past you.

Worth thinking about!

                Katherine G. Johnson


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