Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: March 23rd, 2010 ]

1 – Utilize an editor

The most common mistakes are minor, such as misspellings or incorrect use of punctuation. Other common errors are incorrect word use (their, they’re, there). A professional copyeditor is adept at noticing and correcting these kinds of mistakes. Do not make the mistake of relying solely upon a computerized spell-checker, which cannot tell the difference between “worse” and “worst” since they are both properly spelled words. Use an editor – a human one. Good self-publishing options will provide copyediting and other more advanced services. Be sure to ask your rep.

2 – Get a second (and third) set of eyes

Even if you do not wish to pay a professional, anyone who reviews your writing will find mistakes you invariably miss. Since you are overly familiar with your own work you are much more likely to miss obvious mistakes because your mind already knows what it is supposed to say, rather than what it actually says. When someone else reads your work, they have no preconceived notions about your writing. In addition to finding mistakes, other people may offer helpful suggestions to make your business writing stronger.

3 – Come back to it later

Do you wait long enough after writing something to begin editing it? Many writers edit their work as they write it. Not only does this slow down the creative process, it increases the chance that your mind will ignore blatant errors in deference to your intentions. Once your brain thinks a paragraph is free from errors, it tends to overlook any new errors that are introduced during the rewriting process. Put your writing away for several hours, days, or weeks and revisit it later. After some time away from your work, you will be more likely to read the words as they appear on the page, not as you envisioned them in your mind. The mind is error-free, the page is not.

4 – Read your material backwards

You are only familiar with your writing in one direction – forward. Reading your material backwards makes it seem entirely different and fools your mind into ignoring the intention and only concentrating on the reality. Furthermore, your critical view of the writing at its most technical level will not be corrupted by the flowing exposition you have massaged into sparkling prose. When you read your manuscript backwards, it becomes a collection of words. Without contextual meaning, the brain has nothing to focus upon other than the words themselves. Mistakes literally jump off the page.

5 – Read your material out loud

When you read words aloud, your brain must slow down and concentrate on the material. How fast can you read the following sentence? The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs. Now how fast can you read it out loud? It takes at least twice as long, and those precious milliseconds sometimes make all the difference between a typo that is missed, and one that is caught and corrected.

As a popular Internet posting informed us in 2003, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wtihuot any porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. But try raednig tihs out luod and see how far you get. An extra bonus for reading your material out loud is that you may discover stumbling blocks like awkward sentence structure and choppy dialogue.

Writing is weird and hard … and sometimes we just can’t make it work without a little help from a third party, be it a casual acquaintance or a paid professional.  Those pesky little demons, typos, seem to slip under the radar at every opportunity––and there’s no way to catch them all, since every author has unique and quirky “characteristic typos.”  I, for instance, have a tendency to self-edit in the middle of writing a sentence, and doing so often leaves relics behind: duplicate words, confounded sentence structure, and incomplete thoughts.  One of my closest friends, a trilingual émigré from France, has a wholly different weakness: transcription errors and run-on sentences.  Still another friend is prone to switch tense and person faster than Marvel churns out movie plotlines.

On the subject of typos:

“If we are our own harshest critics,” asks Nick Stockton of WIRED magazine, “why do we miss those annoying little details?” The answer may be more life-affirming than you think.  Writes Stockton, “The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart.”  He goes on to quote psychologist Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield.  “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” said Stockton.  The reason we miss typos is because we are too smart, instinctively and unconsciously, about how we process information.  Expediency requires our brains to distill language down to its component parts and to extrapolate or guess rather than literally consider each letter on a page.  Stockton says it much better:

“Generalization is the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions. It’s similar to how our brains build maps of familiar places, compiling the sights, smells, and feel of a route. That mental map frees your brain up to think about other things. Sometimes this works against you, like when you accidentally drive to work on your way to a barbecue, because the route to your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.”

Today I went to the movies with a friend, and despite having discussed (in detail) beforehand how we needed to pick up cheese from the grocery store on the way home to make omelets later, I found myself well past the turnoff before it even computed that I was supposed to be doing something other than following instinctive muscle memory.  All this to say, I feel the truth of Stockton’s words on a profound and immediate level.  And as an author, I’m well aware of just how prone I am to skip my characteristic typos.

The original 5 tips are still relevant

… but it’s just as important to understand why typos happen and to recognize three key things about them:

  • everyone makes errors;
  • these errors are unique and originate from somewhere that makes sense for each person; and
  • you are not a successful author if you magically avoid making any typos––you’re a successful author if you take steps to address the reality of errors in your writing and trust the tried-and-true editorial tips above to catch them.

It’s so easy to fixate on finding errors before you hand your manuscript off for other people to read, but in all reality part of the reason authors find early readers is to help with the editorial process!

tips for editing

If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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