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Focus on Reducing Mistakes

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.

Happy Writing!

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.



  1. It's so hard to catch everything, but I certainly try. I think it's sad that so few people care about the details anymore. (Not including writers - we care!) :)

  2. I read my novel in progress 1 million times, on the 1,000,001th time I "saw" that the wife of the bad guy became his girlfriend in the next chapter, without explanation. Aaarrrggghhh

  3. I've got the same question of "What is the etiquette?" A colleague emailed a newsletter today with at least 2 typos. (I haven't even read the document yet but noticed the typos.)Is it better to tell her or not?

  4. Gael-- Ahhh, the "other woman" problem! And he's ALREADY the bad guy, so he can't say "It wasn't me!"

    Sue--It is really a conundrum. For example, with your colleague, if the newsletter has already been sent out, the harm has been done, so do you make it worse by pointing it out? Or do you offhandedly mention you noticed the errors, putting yourself in the editor position for future newsletters? Or worse, that over-critical colleague who points out 'unimportant' mistakes? That's why it's the spinach in the teeth scenario for me--I want people to tell me, but then I feel like an idiot for smiling so big after lunch.
    I'm going to throw this up on my FB and Twitter tomorrow to see if anyone has a better answer, because I am just not sure.

  5. I went to grade school in the town that the "English Is Our Language No Excetions" sign is from. The mayor is not only an idiot, he's a crook. He dumped tons of carcinogens into the water table.

    Personally, I find that using Google Chrome as a browser has pretty much eliminated a vast percentage of my typos--as any spell check would, thanks to the friendly little squiggly red-line reminders.

    As far as pointing out the flaws of others goes --I only chat with someone about it if the errors are fixable or noticed repeatedly in some sort of professional correspondence or publication. I always volunteer my eyes as a second set to help catch them.

  6. "a virtual spinach leaf stuck between their internet teeth?" That's priceless!

    I just read on old horror fiction magazine. It was full of spelling and grammatical errors. Even a story by Clive Barker had many errors. It was difficult to enjoy the story.

    Your point about reading our writing out loud is important. I'm surprised how many writers don't do that.

  7. I used to mock my friends and customers behind their back in a newsletter column where I repeated the worst errors, without attribution, but it got to be much too large. Now I just take quiet pleasure in my own grammatical superiority. Please, don't point out the typos on my website, Facebook, novels, or this post. If you do, I'll have nothing left.


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