Monday, May 29, 2017

Why Writers Will Make Mistakes When They Know Better


I’m not going to talk about complex and subtle issues like continuity errors. That’s way too much work. Instead, I’m going to do the exact thing that gets my editor fired on a weekly basis, and that’s focus on word choice, or rather basic typos.

Twice now, in my long luxurious writing career, I have spelt “learn” “luren” when writing. It’s not that I ever have been under the impression that it was “luren” or that I didn’t immediately find a mirror to look at myself like an idiot. It was something I just did naturally in the heat of the moment.

Posting a joke about it on Twitter, I received the response of, “How on earth do you spell a word wrong that you already know how to spell?”

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

If we look at the original idea behind the typographical error, the term typo came from a slip of the hand—putting the “e” before the “h” in “the.” If we’re going to be pedantic about it (and you all know how much I love that), putting “your” instead of “you’re” when you’re actually not informed of the difference isn’t a typo; it’s a grammar error.

The truth is that most of our mistakes aren’t from being poorly informed, but rather from simple slip ups, temporarily forgetting the rules as our focus shifts, or our minds struggling to switch back and forth from right to left sides of the brain.

I explained to him that while envisioning the scene, if I was tired or too invested into it, I would be so focused on the visuals and sounds of the moment that I focused on the “sound” of the word than the sight of it. So I spelled it out phonetically. He claimed that he had never been that immersed and that he was kind of jealous. But, I believe, he has made those kinds of mistakes before, even if he is unaware of it.

It’s important for writers to be aware that this happens in order to give each other a base amount of respect and be better equipped to solving the problem.

The fact is, now with the internet harping on it, most people do know the difference between “you’re” and “your,” but knowing is different from implementing.

For one thing, typing and spelling becomes habitual. You are able to type fast because of muscle memory recall; you don’t have to stop and remember where each and every letter is, you don’t have to try and pull up how to spell a word. We start to make associations of the “image” with the “sound,” which is why we often get homonyms wrong the most. Because “you’re” and “your” sound exactly the same, the brain hears the word and pulls up the associated image, not considering the actual meaning.

So you first have to reteach your mind to hear “you’re” and pull up “you’re,” but the brain’s first impulse is to replace not add.

You’ll note that many writers when they first begin to use the correct version of the word will suddenly start using “you’re” all of the time. Considering that we say “you are” more often than “your possession,” it actually makes a lot of sense why not only do they err on the opposite.

It took me about two years to teach my brain to naturally recognize the difference when writing, where I didn’t have to pause and think out which one I actually meant. Today, I will often put the right word in without it slowing me down… but even still I will make mistakes.

A reason many people recommend not editing as you write is that editing, especially copyediting, is a left brained activity while writing is a right brained one. One uses facts and the images of words, the other uses feelings and images from your imagination. Switching back and forth is very difficult, which is why the more inspired you are by a scene, the more likely you are to make basic typographical errors.


Keep this in mind when you start to get frustrated at some of your dumber mistakes, or when criticizing your fellow authors. There is a huge difference between a mistake caused by implementation or misinformation, and it affects how you should inform the writer of the issue. We know that it's not luren. We're just tired, damn it.



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