This post is sort of a follow up to my last. As I wrote last week’s post I found I had branched off on a couple of tangents, and so decided to cut them use them later. This was one of them, and the other will come next week.
I wrote before about how poor spelling can cause me issues as a writer. This week, I’m going to talk about proof reading my own work. In that I’m not very good at it. I’m not talking about editing. I can decide which sections need to be trimmed, expanded or otherwise tweaked. I mean actually proof reading and copy-editing the final product. My problem is that when reading my own work, I can sometimes simply not see spelling or grammatical errors, even when they are right in front of me.
I will always check my work, double checking every word, reading it aloud slowly, taking extra care to ensure I miss nothing. Then, having determined that I’ve caught and fixed all the errors, I will pass it on to someone else. Then, they will inevitably spot a dozen mistakes and typing errors that are blatantly obvious, and I look like an idiot.
It’s not spelling errors that cause issues here, as such. The miraculous tool that is Spell-Checker will highlight those for me. No, what gets me at this point is incorrectly used words. Words which are spelt correctly, but still wrong. Such as accidentally typing “spot” instead of “stop, or “weary” instead of “wary”. Or words that are redundant.
You want an example? Recently, a reviewer on YouWriteOn.com pointed out that in an excerpt I had posted of The Serpent’s Eye, there were two or three instances where I had left in unnecessary uses of the word “that”. I checked, and saw that they were quite correct; in the places they had mentioned, the word was utterly superfluous. Having fixed them, I decided to go through the entire manuscript, just in case I had done this anywhere else.
In the end I removed exactly 200 redundant “that”s.
Once it was pointed out to me I could see it easily, and using the Find function allowed a surgical search and removal. These redundant words were hangovers from the original vomit-draft, where I don’t worry about grammar and spelling and just get the story on the page. And over the course of the four following drafts, I just hadn’t seen them. Each time I re-read, my brain kept skipping over those extraneous “that”s.
It is deeply, deeply frustrating. I believe that the root of this is connected to the problem I have with spelling; when I am reading my own words my brain knows what is meant to be there and so often skips over the mistakes. But knowing this does not help the fact that it is still highly embarrassing to show your work to people and have them highlight myriad basic errors and mistakes. I know, as much as I don’t like it, that those of you who have read my blog posts and short stories on here must have spotted a bunch these errors. Just please believe me that these aren’t out of laziness. I’m trying, I’m just a bit rubbish.
I want to consider myself self-sufficient. That, if I needed to, I could write and polish my own work without needing any help from others. But I know I can’t.
This is yet another reason that alpha- and beta-readers are so important to the writing process. Sometimes you can be far too close to your writing, and you need honest, outside opinions of what works and what doesn’t work. And, in my case, to do my copy editing for me because my brain tries to be too clever.
Damn you brain!
And, as with my spelling, the only way I will improve is with practice. The more I read and critique, the better I will get. This is why sites such as YouWriteOn.com, which I mentioned before, are invaluable. Not only does this site allow you to get feedback on your work, it only gives you that feedback if you read and critique other people’s work first. This has given me the chance to see the kinds of mistakes others make, helping me to learn to spot them in my own work. I am better at proof reading other people’s work more than my own, so hopefully I will be able to develop this skill for myself.
At least, I hope that’s the case.