What can I say? It’s been another one of those intense times for me where social media lost to my writing and computer work. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this piece for a while. It was going to be part of a really long post that I decided to break up into more manageable chunks.
When writing, the goal is to always to be perfect. As writers, our words reflect who we are. None of us would go into a fancy restaurant wearing a jogging suit, right? Perfection, though, is as elusive as winning the lottery. Why? Well, when we write something, our brain stores a copy of what we intend to say. When we read it back to ourselves, it’s a crap shoot as to whether or not we’ll find all the errors. That’s because, our brain tells our eyes that they are seeing what’s in the copy it has and not what’s on the screen.
Use the ears
Reading aloud forces the brain to concentrate on the words that the eyes have in front of them. By engaging the ears, there are now two senses involved in the same task, so the brain is forced to process both sets of input, and can’t pay as much attention to the copy it has. Ears also have certain sound tolerances. If something doesn’t sound right, the brain is going to complain.
While using one’s own voice might be practical for shorter pieces, it’s a good idea to look into text-to-speech software for the longer stuff. Free versions won’t work because they sound like a computer. That could be a big distraction for different reasons, including the unusual pronunciation of long and complex words. I don’t have a recommendation for a particular piece of TTS software to use, because voice choice is a personal preference. How-To Geek has a list of text-to-speech packages worth exploring, though.
Do at least one edit by hand
Working on the computer makes it even more possible to gloss over missing words, repetitions, wrong words, and other mistakes like that. This is because there’s no physical action of turning the page or writing something down to break the flow from page to page. Printing a piece out and editing it on paper, like using the ears, forces the brain to accept two sets of input. (In this case, sight and touch.) It also has to control the hand doing the editing. Add to that the tendency to read printed material aloud, and the brain is forced to file its copy while paying attention to the one in front of it.
Correct spellings don’t come from random Internet searches
The Internet is a great place for finding information, though some of the stuff that is found on it should be double-checked with multiple and known sources as a general rule. This includes the spelling of words. People use misspelled words of famous websites to deliberately get traffic for advertising and much more nefarious things.
Use an online dictionary like dictionary.com or merriam-webster.com. If they can’t find the word, they will offer suggestions of words that are approximate spellings to it. Read the definitions until the proper word is found.
Pay attention to a word’s definition
There are big differences between words like there and their and to, too, and two. It will drive readers, and editors, nuts to find the obvious mix ups.
Sometimes, there are different spellings of the same word in the same language that are correct. Endeavor (American English) versus Endeavour (British English) are both correct. Same thing with theater and theatre. Some would even say the British English way of spelling things adds more style and pizzazz as well as an air of superiority.
What about deliberate misspellings? They are both bad and good. My series name is a misspelling of heroes, and I know that. There is the benefit of the web traffic when people misspell heroes, but I don’t count that as an advantage, more like a lucky break.
Don’t depend on a computerized grammar checker
This isn’t as bad as using the Internet to find the correct spelling of a word, but it’s close. The first problem is that not all grammar checkers are programmed with the same rules. Then, even if they do have all the rules, they don’t have human context for those rules. For example, all grammar checkers will yell about passive voice, demanding that a more active voice be used. While overuse of passive voice is a problem, there are sometimes that it can’t be helped. Also, if everyone wrote to the standard of a grammar checker, there would be no unique style and voice.
Hire an editor
Getting a second, even third, set of eyes on a piece is probably the best and most practical advice I can give when it comes to finding and correcting typos. Another human being will have the experience and context to understand how and what is being said, while still being able to spot those pesky little mistakes. Unless, they are obsessive about grammar, friends and relatives tend to be nicer and let things slip, so use them for the initial read through.
A professional editor should be hired for the final check. Professional editors make their living off of correcting people’s work, so if it’s in the budget, hire one. Don’t just go with the ones with the flashy ads or slick looking websites. Do research and get recommendations. Editing, like web design and pet sitting, attracts a lot of people because it seems like a lot of money for little work. The reality for each of these professions is that there is a lot more things that go on behind the scenes than the average person sees.
When hiring a editor give them a test. Let them work on a sample chunk to get a sense of their style as well as their ability to maintain the voice and style of the piece being edited.
Let me know if any of these ideas help you, or if you have any other suggestions that will help your fellow writers, in the comments.