Monday, August 18, 2014

The Dreaded Typo

By Vicki Delany

I now its good but is it rite?

My spell checker picked up exactly one typo in the above sentence when there are, in fact, three major ones.

Thus proving that you can’t rely on spellcheck to help fix your errors. As well as missing things, spell checker can be out and out wrong. 

So, what’s a writer to do? First, of course, read your own stuff carefully.

But even that isn’t good enough. Everyone knows that you can’t edit your own work. When you read your own writing, particularly something you have read over many times before, you don’t see what is actually there: you see what you THINK is there.

What brings this to mind is an interesting article I read explaining how this works.  It’s not a bug: it’s a feature.
What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos

Essentially, our brains are so efficient that we don’t need to re-read every word of what we supposedly already know:

We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” 

In short, you may think your manuscript is perfect and error free. Your spell-checker might even agree with you. But it isn’t, if you haven’t let someone else have a read of it.

My advice to beginning writers is often to join (or form) a critique group. A good critique group can help you fix sticky plot points, point out character inconsistencies, question what’s going wrong. All that as well as provide a friendly community and an impetuous to keep on writing.  But a critique group isn’t always the best to do your copy editing or proof-reading, not if they are focused more on big picture items like plot and character.

On the other hand, you don’t have to pay a professional editor, unless you want a professional standard of editing.  If you are planning to send your manuscript to publishing house editors and agents, it doesn’t have to be perfect. But it does have to be as good as it can be. You don’t want that editor or agent to be constantly drawn out of the story by all the spelling and grammar mistakes, do you?

All you really need is the ‘average reader’.  The sort of reader who can spot an error in:
He is was a big dog.

If you are not looking for feedback and constructive criticism, you can even ask your mom!

If you really can’t find anyone to help, back to the above article:

Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said.

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