Thursday, May 7

Tricks & Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work

Jodie Renner, editor and award-winning author @JodieRennerEd

Part of the Indie Authors Series


Whether you’re writing a novel, a nonfiction book, a blog post, a magazine article, a short story, or an assignment, it’s important to go over your work several times before submitting, to make sure it’s error-free and flows well. No matter what your you’re writing, you’re your credibility will be eroded if readers find mispelled misspelled words, misused words, missing or extra words, or other typos.

Over the years, I’ve presented workshops and written several articles on tips for approaching the whole editing and revising process, starting with macro issues like logistics, characterization, plot, and pacing, and working your way through awkward phrasing and wordiness down to micro errors like spelling and punctuation. And of course Janice has done a stellar job of guiding writers through the process, to result in a polished story before querying or publishing.

For a whole book on how to nail this critical process to create a novel that shines, check out James Scott Bell’s excellent Revision & Self-Editing for Publication. Writers also find both my award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and my latest guide, Captivate Your Readers, very helpful.

For today, my topic is on that final step, after you’ve resolved all big-picture content problems and even most style issues, such as slow pacing, awkward sentence structure, or overly wordy phrasing. My tips today are on the final “proofreading” step, how to ferret out those tiny little gremlins that escape your notice when you’re concentrating on content and even style issues. As someone trained to see errors, I find them everywhere – on signs and menus, in blog posts and articles, on website copy, and in published books.

When we read our own work, we’re so familiar with what we want to say that we fill in words that aren’t actually on the page, and skip over slightly misspelled words that still pass spellcheck, or little words that shouldn’t be there. Of course, getting detail-oriented, eagle-eyed friends who are great at spelling to read it carefully is a great option, if you know of some. If not, or in addition to that, I’m providing some tips for fooling your brain into thinking it hasn’t read this story before.

Recently, I served as judge of short stories for the latest Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction contest, where I was given 147 short stories and asked to choose only 10 of those to go on to the next level. Since I had to reject 137 of these stories, I had to be pretty ruthless, and any that weren’t polished just didn’t make the cut. Typos or spelling errors on the first page were an automatic no – as were long boring descriptions, a confusing opening, cardboard characters, lack of tension or intrigue, tedious repetitions, and switches in verb tense.

Here are some tips for fooling your brain into thinking your story is something new, something you need to read critically and revise ruthlessly before it reaches the demanding eyes of a literary agent, acquiring editor, contest judge, or picky reviewer.

1. Set it aside for a while.
First, if you can, put your article, blog post, or short story away for a day or two before revising and editing it, and your book manuscript away for a few weeks or even a month, if possible, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and a bit of emotional distance.

2. Start with Word’s spell-check and check those squiggly red and blue lines under words.
Don’t rely on Spellcheck, though, as it misses a lot and often suggests changes that make something correct incorrect. For example, in the Agent Dallas thriller manuscript I recently edited for L.J. Sellers, The Trap, MS Word suggests that “I like your thinking” (as in “I like how you think”) should be “I like you’re thinking.” And it often suggests the wrong its/it’s, and misses all kinds of typos in manuscripts I edit, like “crowed” for “crowded,” “father” for “farther,” “county” for “country,” and “manger” or “manager.” So definitely don’t trust spell-check blindly.

3. Use my two quick, clickable e-resources to verify spelling and word choices:
Quick Clicks: Spelling List – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips, and Quick Clicks: Word Usage – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips. These handy resources will save you tons of time looking up words in the dictionary, and every word is verified as correct.

4. Do a search (“Find”) for words you know how to spell but tend to spell wrong when you’re in a hurry, especially ones spell-check won’t flag, like “you” for “your,” or “your” for “you’re,” and “there” for “they’re” or “their.”

Then choose some of the following strategies, which are also excellent for picking up on clunky sentences and awkward phrasing.

~ Increase the size of the type
to 140% - 160%, by clicking on the + sign at the bottom right of the document.

~ Change the font to one that looks quite different to fool your eyes and brain into thinking this is new material you’ve never read (or thought of) before, so you need to pay close attention.

Try Comic Sans or Franklin Gothic Book or Book Antiqua.

~ Format it to book size
, like 6″ x 9″, change the font to Georgia or Cambria, change it to single-spaced, format it to two-column landscape, so it looks like an open book, then print it up and read it in a different location, somewhere you don’t write, preferably out of your home.

~ Send it to your Kindle or other e-reader
and read it in a different location, preferably not at home.

~ In a print version, place a ruler or piece of paper under the line you’re reading to keep from skipping ahead. Or keep your finger under each word as you read.

~ Read it out loud.
Wherever you stumble, your readers will, too. This will also help with punctuation. If you pause briefly, put in a comma. If you pause for longer, put in a period. (Best to avoid or minimize semicolons in fiction, and keep them right out of casual dialogue. And reserve exclamation marks for when someone is screaming or yelling, shocked, or in pain.)

~ Get your computer to read it aloud to you
, while you follow along. In Word 2010, for example, here’s how you enable text-to-speech: First, add “Speak” to the Quick Access Toolbar. Along the very top above “File,” the line that starts with W for word, at the far right is a down arrow. Click that. It will say “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.” Click “More Commands.” In the “Choose Commands” from the list, select “All Commands.” Scroll down to the “Speak” command, select it, and then click “Add.” Click “OK.” When you want to use the text-to-speech command, you’ll use the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, which looks like a speech bubble on a cartoon. To hear some text read aloud, highlight the paragraph or chapter you want to hear aloud, then click the Speak icon on the toolbar.

Even better, try Natural Reader, a text-to-speech software that uses natural-sounding voices.

Follow along the text while listening to the text being read aloud. Stop it whenever you need to add or delete a word, or fix awkward phrasing.

~ If you’re self-publishing, get a sample book printed by CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) and read it somewhere else in your home, in a room where you don’t work, or better yet, away from your home, like in a coffee shop, a park, or the beach. I read one of mine in book form, pen in hand, on vacation at a tropical resort, and I caught all kinds of repetitions, sentences that didn’t flow as well as they could, were too wordy, or generally needed polishing, etc., as well as the odd typo. By the time I was finished, I had all kinds of scribbles in the margin, which I then typed into the manuscript on my laptop.

You could also try editing software, such as PerfectIt, SmartEdit, or Grammarly, but I’ve tried all of those three and they all frequently suggest inappropriate words, so be sure you don’t accept their suggestions blindly. See my article here, “Grammarly’s Editing Software – How Helpful Is It?”

Writers – do you have any other strategies to add for catching all those little typos lurking in your manuscript? Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Fire up Your Fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller, and Captivate Your Readers. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays.

Website | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

18 comments:

  1. Great tips, Janice. I also read my MS backwards. Not word by word backwards, as that would make no sense! Just page by page backwards, which makes the material seem unfamiliar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good idea, p&ptalk. I've heard of people reading it backwards word by word, or even upside down, but both of those sound way too aggravating to do! But I can (sort of) see reading it backwards page by page being useful. Thanks for the tip!

      Delete
  2. Love these tips! I often use the text to speech function. Also, reading from the bottom up works for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Natalie. I must try that reading from the bottom up. Do you also read from right to left, or from left to right?

      Delete
  3. Super useful stuff. Thanks, Jodie & Janice! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Veronica. Glad you found these tips helpful!

      Delete
  4. Text to speech software helps me out a lot. I don't always have the benfit of real people to beta-read for me, and I'm still trying to make use of "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" but I'm just not my best teacher on some things, and while I don't let it stop me entirely, it does mean I have long stretches of time between the last bit of progress and the next.

    I don't always follow the "read aloud" advice, and that's just a general problem I have, even when I didn't write whatever I'm reading.

    I always preferred silent reading versus reading aloud, especially because I talk so fast that it sounds like audio skipping on a vinyl record or audio cassette when I play it back.

    Can't exactly edit well via that method if my fast talking works against me.

    So, I'm glad I have text to speech software, I use NaturalReader, too.
    (Yes, I'm old enough to remember both of these things...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. EDIT-

      "I always preferred silent reading versus reading aloud, especially because I talk so fast that if I tried to do the "Record reading my book" and playback for edits, it sounds like audio skipping on a vinyl record or audio cassette when I play it back.
      (Yes, I'm old enough to remember both of these things...)

      Can't exactly edit well via that method if my fast talking works against me.

      So, I'm glad I have text to speech software, I use NaturalReader, too."

      Delete
    2. Glad to hear you're finding NaturalReader helpful, Taurean. Good luck with your WIP! :-)

      Delete
    3. I always prefer silent reading and except when I first started years ago it doesn't help me much. Too many interruptions and life gets in the way. But I love to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to read the text back to me while I read along. It provides a disconnect between ears,eyes, and brain that reading to myself alone doesn't.

      Delete
  5. I've been editing and I did find reading a print out showed me a lot of spelling errors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I find that, too, Southpaw. It's especially effective if you change the font and formatting and read it in a different place, preferably away from your home, or at least away from where you write. Good luck with all your writing projects!

      Delete
  6. A good trick with using text-to-speech software is to speed up the voice a bit so you have to pay attention to keep up. This also helps keep you from zoning out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a great idea, Marilynn! Thanks for sharing!

      Delete
  7. Jodie, you give the BEST tips! I've never heard of Natural Reader. I'm going to give that a try.

    I swear...I just had my manuscript read by three beta readers. They each caught stuff the other didn't. And then I caught a couple of things after that. Sheesh! But hey, I'm thankful they were caught BEFORE paying readers saw them :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems we can never have too many critiques and beta readers, Julie! I found that when I used beta readers for the first time with my latest book - they all found typos or awkward wording or other issues the others didn't mention!

      Delete
  8. Great tips, Jodie. I've done the reading aloud and making the text bigger, but I never thought of changing the font! I'm going off to proof my new book in Comic Sans right now! Thanks a bunch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad I was able to offer a tip or two to a pro like you, Anne! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :-)

      Delete