by Kelly Lynne, editor
Errors of haste are more common than you might imagine; I often wonder if writers re-read their work before sending it to me to edit. As a writer myself, I know the answer is probably yes—dozens of times. Proofing errors elude the writer’s eyes when the brain knows what was meant; this is why no writer can edit his or her own work with 100% accuracy.
Sometimes even multiple sets of eyes can miss an error. I published a short story that had a typo that I missed, my ten crit partners missed, and my publisher’s editor missed but my dad caught when reading the published story. In Homer Simpson’s words, “D’oh!”
The main goal of writing a book is to entertain the reader and make them forget their eyes are rolling across a page of text. You want them putting energy into visualizing your story, not tripping on typos and wrong word errors. That is the best reason to hire an editor or proofreader before attempting to publish your work.
But there are easy steps you can take to reduce the number of errors that leave your desk in the first place. The ideal way to find typos is to look at the words without reading the story. Reviewing the text backward sentence by sentence from end to beginning is one way to see the words out of context, making typing errors more visible.
You can also use find/replace to hunt down and fix these common proofing errors:
your (possessive) vs. you’re (you are)
their (possessive) vs. they’re (they are) or there (place)
then (sequence) vs. than (comparison)
its (possessive) vs. it’s (it is)
past (time or distance) vs. passed (past tense of verb “to pass”)
loose (not tight) vs. lose (not win)
led (past tense of “to lead”) vs. lead (metal)
Check for “where” when you meant “were”; that typo is almost as common as “adn” and “teh.”
Remove the final “s” on “towards” to be the proper American “toward” (unless you are publishing in Britain, Canada, or Australia); indeed any word ending in “ward” needs the s removed for U.S. fiction publishing, per Chicago Manual of Style.
People “try to” do things, they don’t “try and” unless they succeed.
Someone can “wonder” (think about) where they might “wander” (move aimlessly).
Should’ve is a contraction of “should have” not “should of” (same for could and would).
You are “supposed to” know spelling and grammar, but “suppose” you miss something?
Remember that people lie/lay/lying while objects lay/laid/laying.
This is not a comprehensive list of proofing errors, just a few common ones I see. A writer’s best hope lies in the hands of a competent professional, whether that is a copy editor who is also rooting out style issues or a proofreader bouncing a proverbial quarter off the prose and inspecting the hospital corners before checking surfaces for dust with white gloves.
Perhaps one of those would have caught “gave me just enough time enough…”
Kelly Lynne edits multiple genres of both adult and YA/middle grade fiction.