I found a menu from a local restaurant in my kitchen yesterday. Within seconds, I found 2 errors: "Ocean Clamps in a red or white sauce" in the seafood section, and "Chicken Parmigiana" was repeated in the veal section. I'm sure most of you out there, as writers, find these mistakes as well; Billboards, emails, textbooks, protest signs, love letters, instructions--you name it, typos are everywhere. (Your friend's Facebook posts! What's the etiquette here--risk the 'unfriending' and tell them, or allow it to stay up on their wall, a virtual spinach leaf stuck between their internet teeth?)
We can chuckle, after all, Headlines with Jay Leno wouldn't be the same without the really bad mistakes! We may roll our eyes and wonder how anybody could miss such a thing. We could mourn the loss of proper grammar and spelling (satirist Gary Shteyngart's book, Super Sad True Love Story, provides much food for thought about this). We might even think that the business owners, copywriters or authors just don't really care all that much. But the fact is, we all make these mistakes. The best we can do in our own writing is to understand why, so we can minimize the muck.
You are Way Too Close
When you have been working on a piece writing for any amount of time, you spend time molding it, changing it, self-editing to make it sound one way, sometimes only to bring it back to the original intent. You become immersed. By the time you get to the first final draft, you know exactly what you want your words to say, so much so, that your mind begins to fill in the blanks or correct the errors by the time they hit your brain, so you believe that the correction has already happened.
--Bifocals for Your Writing
This is why having someone else read your work is so important. A reader with a good eye will find the glaring mistakes and even the more subtle ones that spell check and grammar check aren't going to highlight. For example: You don't want to write about the "roll of government" unless you're discussing the White House's bakery. Spell check doesn't care that you want "this and that" when you've written "this an that." You do this with other people's writing all of the time. It is easier to see someone else's mistakes because the prose, the ad, the story, etc. hasn't been living in your own head. It is like the picture hanging on the wall of your new friend's home. It's been there for years, she doesn't even notice it any more, but it is the first thing you notice when you arrive.
Besides physically passing your work along to a second look, there are ways you can step back from your own work to find these annoying mistakes:
- Step Back, literally. Make sure to allow time to set aside your work especially after a grueling session or two. Work on something else or resubmit some of your other writing for a day or two. Or (I know this goes against the advice of many, but it may be good for you) don't write at all for a short time--give your writing muscle a break. You will come back with fresh eyes.
- Story Time. Read your work out loud. It is not guaranteed that you won't still fill in the mistakes , but there is a chance you will hear yourself stumbling and recognize something is not right. Record yourself, then play it back with the text in front of you. You may notice that the spoken and written do not match.
The final thought on the subject of pesky little mistakes: There may be some you don't realize you are doing, because you've always done it "that way" and never knew it was incorrect (are and our; there, their, and they're; effect and affect). Strive to continuously learn and improve, even when you think you've "got it down." It will only make your writing clearer, your flow easier, and your excuses more difficult to find.
P.S. Please don't be too harsh on me if you find mistakes in this post. I've just returned from five days in New Orleans and I'm not sure I've recovered! --Tina
A few more mistakes:
|The mistake: "President-elect Burka Abeam". Eeek.|