Annoying! – or, Does it ever end?

forehead-slap

So I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’m sitting with the paperback of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer in my hands, and I’m reading it to my six-year-old son (who’s already suffered an earlier draft so knows the story, but wants to hear it again which is nice).

The problem is, I have mixed feelings when reading the ‘final’ version of any of my work. I’ve come across too many problems, mistakes or typos in the past, blatant errors that I’ve somehow seen straight through in the previous gazillion times I’ve painstakingly gone through the flipping thing.

Even if I don’t see actual mistakes, I feel my fingers twitching when I read a particular word, phrase or sentence and think, ‘hmm, maybe that would read slightly better if …’. Once you’re conditioned to constantly edit your work, it’s hard to stop.

But anyway, today’s reading was going pretty well. No typos at least. And then on page 18 I come across the following sentence:

He decided not to mention the tree-talking Captain Frost to Mum – she had enough to worry about.

Nothing much wrong with that, right? Wrong. Danny first meets Captain Frost a few pages earlier. The problem is that he doesn’t know her name yet. He doesn’t actually learn she’s called Captain Frost until a few pages later.

And I know how this error happened: in an earlier draft, the first encounter between Danny and the Captain was somewhat longer and they learnt each others’ names. For various reasons, that scene was re-written and their conversation became a lot shorter. But I missed this particular reference to the Captain’s name between that scene and the next time the two characters meet.

So I guess you’d call it an error of perspective or context, or something like that. Anyway, it’s a mistake. Perhaps a fairly subtle one – and I take some comfort from the fact that none of the other people who’ve reviewed the book so far have pointed it out. But now I’ve noticed it I’ve just got to fix it.

Of course I can correct and upload the Kindle version pretty quickly and easily. As for the paperback – well there are already a few copies printed that have the mistake in perpetuity. There’s nothing I can do about that. (Maybe they’ll be valuable one day when I’m famous, right …?) But I can create a new printer file and ensure all new copies from now on are fixed. At least it’s on POD so it’s not like hundreds or thousands have been printed.

It’s got me thinking, though. How can I get better at spotting mistakes like these earlier? Is it just a case of going through it again and again and again? Maybe I should have paid for a final professional proofread as well as the earlier copy-edit, but I had to draw the line on spending somewhere. Oh well, it could be worse … and actually might be, as I’ve yet to re-read the rest of the book! There might well be more to come. So I’ll hold back on creating the new versions of the text for now.

What’s the worst (or most frustrating) error you’ve spotted in something you’ve written?

How carefully do you proofread your blog posts?

waste paper

OK, not the most thrilling of questions, but I’m interested nonetheless. I’m always a little conflicted over this. One part of me thinks: look, I’m a writer, writing is my craft, I should aim to make everything I produce of the highest possible quality, whether it’s a novel, a short story or a 500-word post.

But then the demon (or is it an angel?) on my other shoulder whispers: nah, don’t stress so much. It’s a blog. It’s supposed to be spontaneous, human, real. It’s supposed to convey something of your personality (though I’m not sure what some of my posts reveal about that). What does the odd typo, cliché or misplaced apostrophe really matter? Most people won’t judge you for the odd mistake.

In the end I guess I lean more towards the first point of view, but take something from the second too. I do think it shows some respect to readers to take a least reasonable care. I redraft my posts at least a couple of times, then do a last scan/proofread before uploading. And after all, I am supposed to be in the habit of spotting and correcting errors. If I produce a sprawling, incoherent splurge of a post, what does that say about me and my attitude to my work?

On the other hand, a blog post isn’t the final draft a book before publication, nor a competition entry, nor a query letter to an agent. It doesn’t really hurt if it’s not 100% perfect, and I don’t really believe most people expect it to be. Therefore I don’t proofread everything to the nth degree. (Though I am anal about apostrophes – can’t stand it if they’re wrong.)

However if I spot an error after posting, I usually can’t bear to let it be. A recent example, in my post Your pulse in the pages: music to inspire your writing, I originally wrote that:

… good fiction can infer of kind of immortality upon its subjects.

As soon as the post went live, that word infer leapt out and poked me in the eye.  It was of course the wrong word – it should have been confer. (Or at least I’m fairly sure it should be – now I’m starting to doubt myself, so if anyone wants to correct me, feel free!) So I changed it (and then encountered WordPress’s occasional annoying habit of mucking up the formatting when you try to edit posts, but that’s another story). A touch obsessive perhaps, but it wasn’t correct and, knowing that, I wanted it to be right.

P.S. I absolutely know I will have made at least one error in this post. It’s just inevitable.