Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tips for Catching Typos

I recommend for anyone who wants to delve into the publishing world to find a way to be some sort of judge. Whether it be for contests, for business, for simple contrived experimentation, it helps the author to start analyzing others before he can analyze himself. Seeing that other side of the “table,” as we put it, allows artists to start understanding objectively how outsiders will perceive their work with actual experience and not just imagination.

It doesn’t need to be limited to their kind of work to be beneficial; writers can understand how people judge things by various, seemingly unrelated situations, whether it be a young author’s contest, a speech and debate meet, or even viewing acting auditions. Though intellectually putting yourself in other people’s shoes is a crucial part to being a good author, actually doing so will reveal a hell of a lot more truth.

One of the things that, having been in the skeptical judge’s shoes more often than the fearful artist’s, I’ve found is that fixing obvious mistakes is the most important thing an author can do. We like to believe that agents and judges are good people who will look beyond the spelling error, the clear slip of the fingers, and any easily altered mistake and see the book for the content. We believe it should be more about the ideas than the silly textual messes.

Yet that no matter how good you want to be, you, the agent, is still reading anywhere from a hundred to a thousand different manuscripts in hopes to pick out the best one. And not only does the subjectivity of fiction come into play, but genius is a lot like sarcasm; you’re not necessarily going to recognize it when you see it.

A typo in a script is a quick identifier for several issues. One, the author didn’t spend much time on it (otherwise he would have caught it). Two, it ruins immersion in the story, reminding the reader (or agent) that this is a book someone wrote and is making up. Three, the author, for whatever reason, isn’t invested in getting to work with the agent.

Of course, these may not actually be the case. Catching typos is a nasty business that even the greatest experts still struggle with it. So, even when you do want to be published more than anything, spend hours and drafts scanning it for basic errors, you’ll still find, after having sent out twenty copies, a misspelled word right on the front page.

But in any case, whether or not it was a simple mistake or a lazy oversight, it will still affect their judgment of the work to an unfairly high extent. Many talented agents will not bother to look at something hard to read when they have a huge pile to still go through.

How do we defy this problem? It isn’t easy. But there are a few ways to make it easier.

-Learn mistakes you keep making

The best thing to do is to start paying attention for your own personal mistakes that you see yourself making over and over again.

Of course, they are usually the more obvious ones—there versus their, your versus you’re. My own personal ones are whenever I want to say “actual” I write, “actually,” or “ever,” I write “every.”

But taking conscious noticed to it, you’ll start to develop an ear which every time you write, “actual,” you will stop yourself and look to see if it’s right.
Most typos have some sort of subconscious legitimacy to them, meaning they’d make sense why you’d write it that way. Noticing how your brain works will help you pay enough attention to correct it.

-Use “finder”

This would be a lot of work, so I recommend it for the final draft stage, just before it’s actually going to be sent out. After having done the above and starting to notice your most common mistakes, use the finder tool in Word (ctrl+F), type in one of your more typical errors (say, here versus hear) and read the sentences as you go to make sure you used the right choice.

Non-words will be picked up by spell check, so really what we’re left with is using actual words wrong. This makes finder a useful way to compensate for what the program doesn't know to look for, combining human brain power with computer power.

For short works, this is great because it won’t take all that long. For novels, it takes a lot more effort and very much more time consuming, but, if you're like me, sometimes it is necessary because in a full, uninterrupted read, I get caught up in the story and still miss mistakes.

-Read backwards

If you want to talk about time consuming, this next tip has it in the bag. Reading sentences backwards is not only going to take more time than just reading it forward, but it is also boring as hell.

It does, however, give the author new perspective on the sentence, and doesn’t allow the brain to insert what “should” go there, which is the number one reason why we tend not to notice typos.

This one is a last resort, and something that I personally can't commit to, no matter how much I've wanted. But, if you’re desperate, this might be the way to go.

-Make someone else do it

In all honesty, this is the best way to catch a typo. The fresh eyes will notice peculiarities without inserting the appropriate fix. An outsider’s feedback is by far the easiest and most efficient way to catch any basic errors.

The problem is that it’s not all that easy to find.

Getting feedback is the most advocated form of editing, and is also the most difficult to accomplish. Having someone take the time and put in the effort in your project is the main reason why there aren’t more amateur movies on the internet. Sure, there are a lot, but take a look at how many amateur books have been published and there is a huge difference. The more people involved, the less likely it's going to happen.

Getting outsider’s help without money is one of the hardest parts of creating. That’s why publishing is everyone’s biggest concern. Also why self-publishing is so popular. It often feels easier to just do it yourself.

Basically, if you can find someone who is really to read something you wrote, abuse that until they fake their own deaths.

-Fix it every time you see it (no matter how much of a pain it is)

You’ve finished the first draft. Time to print it out, to visualize the accomplishment, to make better edits. As you’re printing, you glance a sentence on the page, and there’s a big glaring problem on it. But you think, hey, I’m going to read it so I’ll catch it the next time around.

Except you might not.

Trying to exterminate all mistakes one by one seems a little like trying to get rid of a cockroach infestation by stomping on one as he happens to run by. But, though typos do tend to reproduce (new ones appearing with every change made), and tend to be hidden in crevasses and shadows, one of the least boring ways to start the purge is by just catching them as you see them.

But in order for it to be affective, diligence is important. That means that even when not in the actual editing process, while not near a pen or the commuter, take the effort to at least note it.

-Every time you fix a typo, read it again.

This is time extensive and not fool-proof. Not only do you risk starting to memorize your work each time you reread it, (which really makes it impossible to catch mistakes) but just because you’ve looked at it a thousand times without changes doesn’t mean you’re going to catch everything. Especially when the typo is due to the author’s unawareness that she’s using the wrong word (say, when I used the word physic instead of physique. What the hell is a physic?)

But, though putting in the effort to reread the same thing takes a lot of will power, like a cockroach, where you see one typo, there are more. That means that if you find a mistake in the third draft, you read a fourth.

Of course, you can take this to extremes. This advice should be taken with a grain of salt, especially when it becomes an excuse not to query the book out. In reality, you will find typos all the way out maybe even when you get your first copy of your newly published book.

A more moderate view of this is to make sure to reread just the changed sentence. I tend not to do this, and that's where my mistakes end up. I wrote a new typo while fixing the old one. In a big picture sense, consider doing another draft every time a chunk of change has been made, make sure to do another look over. This makes sense for various reasons, not having to just do with typos.