Thursday, January 24, 2008

Of Mousetraps & Typos

It can be hard to catch things.

I’m reminded of that this morning, by my cats. I was woken up by the sound of obvious mischief, and went to check out what was going on.

Stuart had caught a mouse, and all the other cats were around, looking for a piece of the action. It looked like an impasse, this unmoving mouse in her mouth, her just sitting there holding it.

Unfortunately, none of them are very bright. I left to put some clothes on, and when I returned it was to discover Stuart no longer had the mouse.

And the cats were swarming around another area.

Since then, we’ve watched as the mouse was located, managed to jump over the cats and they failed to spot that movement and continued focusing on mouse-free space.

It really is a wonder they’ve ever caught anything.

It’s funny, because I always thought cats were pretty natural hunters. Over the years, I’ve had many cats, and they’ve always had their share of kills, and certainly not from necessity. They’ve been well fed, pampered, and still felt the need to kill rodents when the opportunity arose.

On the flip side, one would think we writers would be pretty adept at catching typos and mistakes in our work. After all, our job involves words…

And yet it’s so easy for things to sneak past us.

You know it every time you put something out, that there’s the chance there’s a mistake somewhere in the copy. In fact, not just a chance. Almost a certainty.

The problem is that our brains are mentally pre-programmed, as authors. We know our story. And so we anticipate what the text is supposed to say.

And we therefore project. It’s easy to stop actually reading the words.

I’ve worked with this from a different perspective. When I worked with kids with speech delays, the main thing we had to concentrate on was getting them to hear the difference between the way they said things and the proper way. Mentally, even at the ages of three and four their minds were so programmed to the errors that you had to help them unlearn to actually hear the difference. You had to train them on those new-to-them sounds. I’d program 6-10 activities, depending on the day, all geared to that. And so, for three hours, it was inundation. Sounds like torture for kids that age, doesn’t it? It’s not as bad as you think. Let’s say the blend being focused on is “sp”. You read stories about Spot or about something spooky. For craft, you make spiders. Maybe you do a cooking activity, and make spaghetti. You play games with sp blend words - I created all my own games, word picture concentration, modified picture bingo, etc.

And believe me, it takes more than one session or even one week of sessions. I’ve worked with kids 15 hours a week for an entire year and not seen full correction at the end.

Imagine leaving those kids until they’re 5 and in a classroom with an overwhelmed kindergarten teacher with 20+ kids.

Bring it back to us, and you can see why it’s so tricky to catch everything. At the age of 36, I’ve been making the same mistakes for a long time. I look up more words in the dictionary now than ever before. When I’m reading other people’s books, I actually take notes… oh, so that’s how to use that term. It jumps out at you more.

And I actually try to get my blog posts right, because if you allow yourself the habit of shitty spelling you're only making it harder on yourself to shift gears... but that's a former education professional talking, so take it for what it's worth.

I never used to notice the typos in my reading. Which isn’t surprising, because we aren’t trained to read letter to letter – we’re trained to read word shapes. We start off in the early years, sounding things out, and soon we’re programmed to recognize words.

That’s why WE CALL IT SHOUTING WHEN PEOPLE TYPE IN ALL CAPS. It strains the eye, because you can’t read the shape.
- spaghetti. This way, the word is fluid. It has letters that ascend and descend.
- SPAGHETTI, done this way, is square. Our eyes can’t immediately process it based on the first few letters and shape.

This also explains why, when asked to read a section from a text book out loud in grade 10 science class, Andrew Wilson said "orgasm" instead of "organism". The first four letters are the same and the last two are also the same. The overall shape is pretty similar... and the mind of a teenage male explains the rest.

The best suggestion I’ve ever heard for catching typos is to change fonts on the text when you print it, so that everything looks a bit different.

Unfortunately, that’s not possible when you get your galley edits. And what happens is that changes are made on the publisher’s side, and then you get back a hard copy and you’d have to manually go against your word document to update it with all the corrections made to that point.

Why don't you just go over the manuscript ten zillion times before then? You reach a point where you can't, because what you've given them is going through editing, and everyone at that stage needs to be working off the same manuscript. Unfortunately, without fully corrected copy, whenever an author produces their own arcs you'll see more mistakes, most likely.

So, yes, plenty of typos abound in the review copies I produced, because they were done before I had my galley edits. Of course, we learn to live with it, and it’s not what we want to hear at this point – we’re already obsessing. I haven’t cracked SC since it was published because I don’t want to see the typos. I still remember last year, getting my copy of something I was published in, flipping through it and happened to be on the last page of my entry and the first page of the next one, and I wasn't even reading it - the word just JUMPED off the page at me, and just that one word on its own... I knew it was wrong.

Sure enough, I checked my file over what I'd submitted. And the word had been changed. Which changed the meaning, slightly, and to me was a mistake.

What can you do about it? Not much...

Now that I’m familiar with the whole process, I’m going back over Frailty and modifying how I do edits a bit, hoping this time, I’ll catch things earlier.

I have to say when that mouse jumped over Pip this morning and none of the cats clued in and following the mouse I thought they were pretty dumb.

And when I see my own typos, I feel the exact same way about myself. When I graduated to high school I received an award for perfect spelling.

If only it was true all the time, and not just in spelling class. (And since they don’t have that in most schools now, I’m sure the typo issue is about to only get worse. I’d say 90% of what I read has a mistake in it somewhere.)


spyscribbler said...

LOL ... love the cat. My one cat was a great mouser, but then the problem came when she discovered it was more fun to play with the mouse when it was alive than when it was dead.

Before I wrote every day, I would never make a mistake like their for there or hear for here. Now that I'm writing? They happen all the time. I don't know why. Maybe because I write faster?

Sandra Ruttan said...

I wonder if it's because we're more focused on story development than the technical aspect? Now I see embarrassing mistakes all the time.

But then, I could name hardcovers I spent $35 on last year filled with them...

Graham Powell said...

My eight year old daughter found at least a dozen misspellings in a 5,000 word story I completed recently.

She also tried to get me to fix all the sentence fragments and dialect! I tell my wife she'll grow up to be a corrections officer.

Anonymous said...

Can so relate. People say read it out loud. It doesn't help. I still insert words. The only thing that helps is perspective. Leaving it for a few months and coming back to it. But now that I'm working on another version of my novel I don't know that I will ever be able to see typo's. I've been working on it for so long there's no objectivity.

As an aside-Any updates on when the Spinetingler Awards will be annonced.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Either that, or an editor Graham!

Amra, the Spinetingler winners should be announced next week. I've been trying to order the crystal statues for the prize winners and they've been kicking my ass. I may have to go into the store, instead of doing it online.

I'd hoped to have them so I could include a photograph. Oh well...

mai wen said...

I suppose we all get comfortable in our settings, whether it's a domesticated cat or writers!

I was hoping you'd have a picture of your kitty with the mouse in his mouth!! My pets don't even know how to kill a darn spider, so I think a mouse would baffle them.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh Mai Wen, that's a wee bit morbid!

Lovely to see you, by the way.