An illustratration [sic] for the importance of proofing

This post is approximately 600 words, some of which are likely misspelled because that’s what happens when writers talk about typos.

Holy lexicon, do I hate misspellings. When it comes to my own writing, I’m a firm believer in self-flagellation. And I know there’s a special place in dictionary purgatory for self-proclaimed grammar perfectionists and those people who allow typos into published books.

Regardless of how much you’ve typed, or how fast you do it, typos are a way of life. When it comes to typing, I’m a cheetah with 30 years’ experience: bursts of speed followed by periods of rest and reflection. If I’m particularly inspired, I probably reach 120 wpm.

kermit-writing

My skills aren’t perfect nor to I claim them to be. To counter this, I’m a ruthless spellchecker. No, that doesn’t mean I frequently click the button in Word, although that is like having a second set of eyes on your work. I mean that every few paragraphs, I pause to reread what I’ve typed, reviewing for spelling, grammar, flow, pace, and content, among other things. Then I type a few more paragraphs and reread the whole thing again.

You’re probably beginning to develop a picture of my (often annoying and exacting) work ethic, which means we’re about two or three paragraphs from it biting me in the rear.

Even for WordPress items, I’m often writing them in Word, rereading, proofing, and editing constantly as I go. I do this even after I’ve pasted (what looks like) the final copy into the post editor. I preview my text and give it another run-through or two. Using this method, I catch 99.9% of the potential typos I make (that sounds like an unverifiable statistic and possibly hubris, for which I will likely be punished in the form of many typos here). It works very well, nonetheless.

Until a that query email I sent.

I researched and researched, finding literary agents’ submission requirements on their websites and Twitter. I found examples of what others had done. I wrote my query. Then proofed and rewrote and edited and rewrote. Finally somewhat satisfied, I pasted it from Word into an email, rechecked and edited again, typed the subject line, and sent it. I liked it well enough that I copied it for my next query, ensuring that I changed any pertinent agent information. I copied the subject line, too.

And that’s when the spellchecker caught the typo. In. The. Subject. Line.

Dammit.

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I had typed “An Illustratrated Children’s book”. Look at it. LOOK AT IT! By the black hand of Delosh, how did I miss that? Did I forget to hit the spellcheck button one last time? But even now, knowing full well it’s spelled wrong, weirdly, deceptively, it still doesn’t look that wrong. I have seen far more egregious errors. Perhaps that’s what bothers me the most.

Fortunately – mercifully – in her rejection response, the agent didn’t mention that the SECOND word she read had been misspelled, nor did she gently remind me of the importance of proofing your submission before sending it. It was the first time I’d appreciated a form letter response.

I probably spend a disproportionate amount of time checking my work compared to the time spent writing, and while I’m OK with that for now, I am relaxing my standards a smidge. You should, too. Chasing perfection is the relentless pursuit of imperfection. And we have more important things to do, like writing great stories.

–Mike

Click for more self-flagellation about typos.

© Michael Wallevand, January 2018


Michael Wallevand is a Senior Product Manager at Thomson Reuters, managing Integrated Marketing Solutions for FindLaw, the world’s leading provider of online legal information and law firm marketing solutions. He has developed products that have generated a hundred thousand unique pieces of content, whilst using organic and paid advertising to drive traffic to attorney websites across the US, UK, and Canada.

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Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading

My Writing Rules Differ From Yours #1

This post is approximately 800 words and talks about grammar. I mean, a lot. Now’s your chance to flee.

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“Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”

Still here? Cool. Now we can nerd out about grammar without the eye-rolling judgment of boring people.

This will be the first in a series of recurring posts about English grammar. As a person who delights in the rules (and their exceptions), the eccentricities, and the history of the language, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d be a crusty curmudgeon about the guidelines, norms, and other grammatical commandments. And often, you’d be right. But it also means I put a tremendous amount of brainpower into thinking about the rules.

And how I’m going to break them.

Don’t get me wrong: the rules are great. They aid comprehension and help ensure understanding between author and reader. However, in the fantasy world I’m creating, I’m making up everything from character names to locations to vocabulary. All of these things need to be understood by the reader, especially in instances where I’m breaking a rule to conform to the norms of my created world. If I can prepare the readers in some way, by the time she or he gets to my non-standard phrase, they immediately understand what I’m saying. They’ve been taught without knowing it.

I’ll use a real-world example so I don’t get you hung up on characters named Flurbbydurm and Nicanick or whatever other nonsense I can conceive (Note: these aren’t really from my book). As a product owner at Thomson Reuters, I’m frequently asked questions by email. My first inclination is to write back, “I have As to your Qs.” Now, every English-speaker I know, including myself, will read “I have as”, possibly understanding my intent when they get to “Qs”. But as a writer, I’ve failed my readers. I’ve written something they thought they understood, only to immediately discover they read it wrong. I’ve ruined the flow and broken the reader’s concentration. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves as a reader, whether for pleasure or work.

Current convention suggests that Q’s and A’s are the acceptable forms, though I believe grammatical rules disagree. You might be thinking, “But Mike, if you’re adhering to the rule, how can you be breaking it?” Well, if everyone believes something counter to the rule, is it still a rule? In college, yes; otherwise…frequently not.  Anyways, it’s my first post on this – I want to ease you into my head my world.

Philosophical grammatical arguments aside (tell me THAT doesn’t sound like an obscure college major…that I wish I had), I generally despise using apostrophes for things other than possessive pronouns, contractions, single quotation marks, and sometimes as part of a colloquial abbreviation (Y’all comin’ back? Yeah I know, you probably won’t after a 800-word post about grammar. Sigh.). Oh, and names, like D’Artagnan.

That’s a really long way of saying, I won’t type DVD’s, CD’s, or DVR’s. And I certainly won’t type A’s and Q’s, no matter what the opinion du jour is.

As a writer, your first inclination should be to re-write. That’s your other option here, and perhaps easier to accomplish without sounding pedantic <looks in mirror>. Yes, yes, what we’re writing is personal and we’re in charge and it’s our way or the highway. Unless you’re doing the reader a disservice. Yes, yes, I know I’m delighting myself more than my audience when I type an email with Qs and As. But it amuses me.

Did you catch what you just read there? You probably didn’t read “as” this time, which means I’ve done the proper set-up. I also reversed the order: since “qs” isn’t a word, you read “Qs”, which put you in the right mindset to read “As”. And there’s the second option, also fulfilled: rewrite it. I usually prefer one or the other, but in this instance, I’ve served the audience’s need for comprehension and my selfish need to be clever.

Those people that read through this – and I thank you for bearing with me – might think that this was an awful lot of words in discussion of a single English rule. Now you know a little bit more about the thought I put into everything I write.

And I do mean everything.

–Mike

PS: Interesting side note for future me: I spent much of this post singing the “Family Finger Song” to Benji as I wrote it. I’m not sure how I typed one thing whilst singing another.


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