Typo or Not Typo?

17.04.2018 |

Episode #1 of the course Ten editing techniques to perfect your fiction writing by K.C. Finn


Welcome to the course, would-be editors!

Over the next ten sessions, we’ll be looking at different strategies for editing your fiction writing, which all combine together to give you the cleanest “oven-ready” publishing draft possible. These strategies include visual and auditory processing techniques, insider tips from the publishing world, and exercises borrowed from drama education to give your work a fully-rounded editorial boost.

Today, we begin with the dreaded typo. It’s often the first thing readers will write about in a bad review, because it really spoils their experience if they keep spotting errors everywhere. The sad fact of the matter is that we, as writers, are often the worst people for making and not recognizing these errors. We write so fast in our excitement that we type letters all over the place, and then we know our story so well that we don’t see errors, even when they’re present! So, I’m going to walk you through three essential processing strategies to catch as many errors as possible in your own work, and they’re surprisingly easy to do:

The breakaway. To break the cycle of being overly familiar with your work, take a good, long break from it. Read something else. Write something else. Get some new words into your head for a while. Turn your brain off from your work, anywhere from two hours to two days, then go back and read a section. Once your memory’s not fresh enough to fill in the gaps automatically, you’ll be able to see errors far more clearly. This is part of the reason that fresh readers often pick up errors that we never see, because everything is brand-new to them!

Physical change. Some people feel really sinful about printing and “wasting” paper these days, but I still produce a full physical copy for editing. Not only that, but I change the font and size of the text from my digital copy. Larger, clearer text breaks the automatic visual processing you have in your head of what your book looks like, tricking your brain into thinking that it’s reading something new. This new-font printout is particularly good for spotting end-of-line errors, because it’s the very last word on a typed line that we tend to skip over when we’re reading.

Loud and proud. This processing technique comes from the world of drama. Reading our work out loud activates a different part of the brain because we not only take the words in but also translate them into physical speech. When you read your writing out loud, you’ll find that you hear mistakes even if you can’t see them, and your lips will stumble to pronounce misspelled words, just as they would in someone else’s work. I’ve taken this technique a step further and often speak the words while I’m writing them to prevent typos in the first place (when I’m alone, of course!).

I would recommend taking three chapters of your work and testing each of these methods out to see what works for you. For me, a combination of all three is ideal, and I change between different techniques depending on the situation I’m in.

Tomorrow, we’ll investigate the linguistic revelation of homophones—words that sound exactly the same but are spelled differently and mean totally different things! I’ll teach you how to avoid spelling disasters with these slip-ups.

Until then, get processing!



Recommended reading

Lori Soard offers a great case study on typos from the world of copywriting, plus some extra tips.


Recommended book

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr., E. B. White


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