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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Those #$@! Typos

In this morning's Houston Chronicle, an article ran called "Sometimes We Have to Write the Wrongs," which apologized for an embarrassing error (helpfully pointed out by many alert readers) that ran in yesterday's Star section, where some celeb photographer said Anna Nicole Smith "could barely right a sentence." The article goes on to list a number of bone-headed and often humorous errors for the amusement of Houstonians.

Instead of laughing, I winced. First of all, while skimming yesterday's Star section, my eye snagged on that same line. But I never noticed the typo, just as I skip over an embarrassing number in my own work. Although I'm a good speller and taught English for years, I am not a great detail person. With my attention focused on the "global", I insert many bone-headed substitutions, such as "the" for "of" and "your" for "you're", along with occasional permutations that bear little resemblance to English, much less the sheer brilliance (!) I was attempting to transcribe. For some reason, this happens much more regularly with novel manuscripts -- where the big picture is much more complex -- than with articles, e-mails, or other short pieces.

Because I'm a perfectionist about my work, I frequently find myself angry and frustrated when, after many readings, the typos continue to appear. (Do they breed in the manuscript after I've shut down the computer? I'm suspicious.) I've recently set up my laptop to read aloud each chapter and highlight each word as it does so. This helps me a great deal, as do the wonderful, gifted writers kind enough to read my work before it's submitted. I'm also incredibly grateful to the editor and copy-editors who catch not only typos but the seriously-important stuff. Yet even with all these eyes and brains, I still invariably catch a few errors at the galley (page proof) stage. And I never read the published book, because I'm terrified I'll see something glaring that is now beyond my ability to change.

But sure enough, once in a great while some helpful reader will write me to point out something that I -- and every one of the legion of proofreaders -- has managed to miss. Recently, one such entrepreneur made a list for me and helpfully offered her services (for an undisclosed fee) as an editor.

I cheered myself by correcting all the errors in her e-mail before deleting it. Clearly, those mistakes bred inside her file between the moment she hit "send" and the message appeared in my mailbox.

Today, I'd like to know, how do you combat the evil typo? Or perhaps you have stories to share about your own helpful reader letters or battles with perfectionism.

6 comments:

Jessica Trapp said...

Leaving mistakes for the white-gloved minions to find is part of my calculating and diabolical plan to be elected evil queen of the galaxy. All the time they spend composing long letters keeps them busy, busy, busy allowing my sinister plot to thicken. So, I toy with them and tell them they are doing a great and important work when, in fact, ALL they are finding are my purposefully left typos. It keeps them lowly and in their places, preventing them from gathering armies of their own and producing a perfect creative work that might overtake mine.

ShanaGalen said...

I'm with you, Colleen. I never re-read my published books. I don't know why it's so hard to see our own mistakes. I gues the brain just sees what it expects.

I ahven't got a "helpful" reader letter...yet.

Colleen Thompson said...

LOL, Jes!

And Shana, I hope you never do get one. :)

Jen said...

I'm pretty good at spotting errors when I go over my writing, but I haven't tried a novel yet. That said, I'll find I missed something, even when I've gone over it several times already. I read a story of mine from years ago, and was annoyed to find more typos!

I think it's helpful to have others who are good at spotting these kinds of errors look over your work, even though they might miss some, too. It just goes to show, don't rely on your spell checker! A few months ago, I groaned when I read a statistic somewhere that said one out of five teenagers thinks spelling isn't important, because we have spell checkers now. Oy!

Nienke Hinton said...

One line at a time (with a ruler) and out loud. I've even heard advice to red it backwards.

Colleen Thompson said...

Jenn,
I believe that about the teens. I work with a few who can't distinguish text-message shorthand from standard spelling. Argh.

Loved the tip about using the ruler, Nienke. That could work. I'll try it.