Typos - by Jo Carroll

We all make them, don’t we? In that glorious rush to get
words on paper fingers get muddled and our wisdom can emerge as gobbledegook. So we edit, edit, edit – honing our wonderful sentences until they say exactly what we want them to mean.

Except sometimes they don’t. In our heads they are wonderful, because we see what we think we’ve written. But the reality can be wobbling tenses, repeated words words, missing punctuation so one sentence runs into another and the whole thing makes no sense at all and even speellings that hide in the sentence undergrowth and confuse here and hear.

I know, you’ve read the thing six hundred times and are convinced that this time it’s perfect. And then along comes Nellie (probably aged about six, with a reading age of eight) and spots twelve mistakes in the first paragraph and it’s all you can do not to chew your own arm off with frustration because YOU ARE MEANT TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS STUFF!

So – this is a plea – how do you spot them? I’ve read the following nuggets of advice, tried them all, and still the b*ggers slip through:

·       Print your piece in a different, unfamiliar font – you will read it more carefully. (I’ve tried this so often that all the fonts are familiar to me now, except the one that looks like handwriting and I draw the line at working with illegibility).

·       Print your piece and read it in reverse: you’ll stop noticing the narrative and find it easier to spot mistakes. (I wish – though it does pick up a few.)

On top of this there seems to be some sort of rule that typos leap out and smack you the second after you’ve posted the piece, or pressed send. Why is that? How come they lurk until that very moment you can do nothing about them?

Does it matter? Yes, I think it does. I get a copywriter to check my books, but can’t afford one for every short story submission or piece for a journal. And they matter because I’m a pedant, and I am irritated by mistakes in books – we claim to be writers, so we should be able to spell. There’s something unprofessional about leaving 'their' when we mean 'there', and don’t get me started on 'your' and 'you’re.'

But please, if anyone has a fail-safe way of spotting them before pressing send, please share it with the rest of us.

You can find more of my writing at http://www.jocarroll.co.uk - and please let me know if you find typos there, so I can correct them.


Karen Myers said…
Read the text out loud.

After fine-tooth-combing and getting every last typo out over the course of a year, I still discovered one for every two chapters while recording the audiobook.

Lee said…
Fail-safe? Fail-safe? Stop wriiting.
Lydia Bennet said…
odd really that with all the technology at our disposal we still have this problem - in fact, the autocorrect can sneakily change stuff without you noticing, if you're not careful. all you can do is all you can do, and you've about covered it here, apart from the reading aloud thing.
JO said…
Thank you all - Lydia, autocorrect can make life even worse. In my former life I had to write a Court Report about a child called Phillip, which my computer insisted on changing to phallus ...
Lydia Bennet said…
hahaha! there' s a website with rude convos due to autocorrect, which seems to have a filthy mind!
Chris Longmuir said…
WhenI worked for Angus Council spell check always changed the name Angus to anus! However, for things like their and there, your and you're, and other words that are easily confused I have a list of them and do a 'Find' when I'm checking the manuscript. Each one that is found can be considered to see if it is the correct version.
JO said…
Great thought - Chris, thank you. (Though I'll never be able to name a character Angus again!!)
Lydia Bennet said…
yes I did 'Finds' with my last novel Chris. and very kind helpful friends offered to proof read it for me!
Vallypee said…
Auto correct is a disaster, Jo! I've done everything you've suggested here, as well as reading aloud, reading back to front and in different fonts, but even still, the beasts creep in. People have different ideas about punctuation, but my favourite trick is forgetting to put a full stop at the end of a paragraph :-p

My only safety net is getting fellow teachers to read for me - about five of them! Even then, I can't guarantee total success. I think even copyeditors these days have trouble because they are under so much pressure to get the work out, and most publishers don't have teams of them the way they used to. It's a problem, I know.
julia jones said…
Too busy spieling to spell? Yes, Jo, I did spot your deliberate mistake lurking in that sentence undergrowth!
JO said…
Thanks for all your support - and speiling-spotting - at least I'm not the only one to struggle with this.

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