Among the annoyances plaguing writers when they are “working on their novel” are typo hunts. Here’s a few useful tips.
There’s nothing more annoying to me than going back through something I’ve written and finding typos. I’m not talking about blog posts here. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably counted several in my writing on this site. A recent experience actually frustrated me a lot.
I got a rejection letter from Asimov’s magazine for a story that I knew had promise, and I thought would be right up their ally. I’ve since posted it here for anyone who wants to read it. After pitching it to two fitting magazines, I decided that I’d rather have it out in the wild than buried on my hard drive.
I couldn’t believe it. After the last submission, I went through and tidied it up a bit more. I glossed over it very carefully, or what I thought was very carefully, and when I went to post it here on writefarmlive, I decided to give it another read-through.
TYPO, in the second fucking paragraph! No wonder it got rejected. If someone sent me a story with a glaring error right at the beginning, I would be like, “What the hell? For real? How much of this article am I going to have to edit before I post it on my site?” I hung my head in shame for a few minutes, and proceeded to read the rest of the story, where I found a couple more.
I’m not talking about commas and verb usage here. I’m talking glaring misspellings of words that every first-grader should know. I was pretty disappointed in myself. I question sometimes if there’s something wrong with my keyboard, or my fingers, or my brain. But, like all other mistakes in the writing world, you chalk it up to experience and carry on, because there’s nothing else you can do. I figured I would include a short list of typo-hunting tactics that I sometimes neglect. If nothing else, this list is a reminder for me as much as advice for you.
Take Your Fucking Time With Submissions
If your story was awesome yesterday, then it’ll still be awesome tomorrow, or next year. Most of us in the fiction world are writing timeless stories. They don’t need to go live right away, but probably worse than anyone else I know, I have a habit of zipping unfinished documents off to literary magazines, hoping for some kind of placement so I can bag a writing credit.
This is NOT the way to do it. Not if you want your stories published. The most obvious way to find typos is to let some time pass. Don’t rush through 15 drafts and then zip a story off in a couple of days. Let it rest, give it time, and come back to it later with fresh eyes. The magazines will wait. The same is said of novels, and I follow that pattern religiously, but these shorter works get me all excited and I want to publish them NOW. I’ll be taking a little extra time in the future to make sure that things are right before I shoot off submissions.
Read it Out Loud
I was standing up in front of a group of writing peers, reading a piece of flash fiction I had written for my writing group in Louisiana. As soon as I started reading, a million stupid little errors became obvious, and this was a piece that I’d been working on for weeks.
I corrected the errors while reading, which made standing behind a podium that much scarier. And after I was done, I took the paper and ran through it again with my red pen. I was tripping over my own words.
There’s no real substitute for this. Reading aloud will force you to find every little glaring error. It slows down your reading pace, it lets you hear the flow of the words, or lack thereof, and hearing the story forces your brain into an editing frenzy. “That doesn’t sound right” is a powerful critique.
Print it Out
Changing the format or medium changes the way that your brain interprets the written word. I’ll often change fonts, zoom in or out, and perform several other computer tricks while working on my professional writing projects. Sending typos to a client that wants a tight blog-article, ready to post, is an embarrassing mistake that I can’t afford to make. That’s not to say that my words will ever be flawless, especially on a deadline, but I have to put in the extra effort and time to make sure that it’s done right, especially when I’m working on a script that’s meant to be read allowed for a video project. Talk about scary. Now you run the risk of tripping up the voice actor. Not a good thing.
If you don’t want to kill trees, that’s fine, but find a way to change the formatting enough to trick your brain into seeing a different document.
Each sentence. One-by-one. Start at the end and work your way back to the beginning. Your brain is going to hate you for feeding it jumbled bits of story, but by doing it this way, you are evaluating your work on a sentence-by-sentence basis, and you’ll be able to catch more mistakes.
Share with a Friend
Sometimes, having a writing buddy is the best thing that you can hope for. We have beta readers and critique groups for a reason. Use them. Often times, it’s much easier for someone else to see your mistakes, and if they don’t mind pointing them out for you, then they can be the most valuable resource in your arsenal. They are also wonderful at pointing out plot issues and mistakes in the story flow, like a jacket laying on the floor in one scene that is mysteriously transported to a closet in the next.
Use “Find and Replace”
Almost every word processing program has this feature. Do searches for common mistakes, like confusing they’re and their, or to and too. My fingers seem to leave letters off the end of certain works, or adding them when they don’t belong. I don’t even see the little red underlines when they appear sometimes, and often find misspelled words long after they should have been fixed. Thing and think get confused by my fingers quite frequently. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. G and K aren’t even typed with the same hand. Guess it’s some rare form of dyslexia.
Looking back on this list, I feel a little ashamed. I know that I should be doing all of these things, and spending more time in the editing lab, perfecting my stories so they won’t be rejected for looking sloppy. It’s such a pain-in-the-ass to edit sometimes, especially longer works, and especially typo hunts. But that’s the grind. That’s what it’s all about. If everything in writing was as fun as a first draft, then everyone would probably do it.
Okay, not everyone. Some people get turned off by the first page.
I’m going to try harder to stick to these things, and I encourage you to do the same. Note, if you send me a little story or article that you’d like to see published here and there are typos, I’m not going to reject you for them. I understand. The little boogers just creep in here or there.
But definitely, if you are going to submit to magazines that are overloaded with submissions, try to do your diligence, and spend a little extra time on the typo hunt. It might be the one thing (thing, think? okay) that gets your foot in the door ahead of another writer. And good luck.
Addendum – Suggested in a comment by Mandie Hines
Mandie left a comment about text-to-speech software, and having the computer read your writing back to you. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find a Linux plugin for LiberOffice that does this, but it sounds like such a great idea, and so few people read comments, that I couldn’t let it pass without noting here. Another idea might be to have a friend read the story aloud to you while jotting notes on your own copy. A bit of negotiation might be involved in that thought.