Saturday, January 16, 2010


What is it about our own work that makes it so hard to see problems?

Granted, it's not always the case.  I'll often write a sentence and know immediately that I hate it.  If I can't figure out a better way to word it at that moment, I'll let it stand, knowing I'll be able to hash out something better when I return.

Sometimes I read others' work and wonder, "How could they not spot that doozy?"  Yet I'm sure I overlook similar problems in my own work.

Nothing brings you down to earth like having one of your fifteen-year-old students spot a typo for you.

The scientific part of me wonders exactly what's behind these authorial blinders.  In matters of typos and missing words, I'm sure our familiarity with the material causes us to fill in the gaps.  What about those big gaps in logic, though?  Or glaring inconsistencies?

How do we miss those?  And how can we help ourselves by taking those blinders off?


Matt Sinclair said...

It's a common problem, actually. It's also one of the reasons why it's good to go through your manuscript several times before you send it to any agents. You may have heard this already, but it's also helpful to read it out loud. You'll pick up on many of the same issues you're citing, plus you'll find others that might not make it back from beta readers.

I wouldn't worry about typos being pointed out by 15-year-olds. You never know where help might come from.

Anna L. Walls said...

I know exactly why that happens. I call it finger dyslixia. Your brain says one thing but your finger type something else (or however it happens), but your brain still sees what it wants to see so some typos get overlooked time and again. I've learned to lean on my computer's audio reader for this kind of search. It happily finds things like ...ed instead of and other such words like those that are missing a letter in the middle to be the word I want and yet it is still a word and makes the spell checker happy.

R.C. Lewis said...

Good points. I think the hardest are the non-typo type problems I mentioned. Perhaps something makes sense to us because we have all the unwritten background knowledge, but the writing is missing connections.

@Matt: Don't worry, I have no problem with my students spotting errors, and it happens all the time. I like it, because it keeps me grounded. :)

Matt Sinclair said...

Grounded has its good points, as does soaring with the highest flyers.

I totally agree with you about the unwritten background knowledge, too. I've had people ask questions, and I'd say, "Oh, that's because his father worked as a..." and the reader would stare at me and ask "Did I miss that part?" But this is why we have people read for us; we're so close to the material and the characters that we don't always see that we're the only ones who are.

Mike Lewis said...

One trick we learned in graphic design is to take a composition and look at it upside down. Not only does this help us decide if it's "balanced", but you work harder to identify the details and you can pick up on things that aren't quite right.