Tricks & Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work

handy, clickable e-resource

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor & author of writing guides

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a magazine article, a short story, an assignment, or a book, it’s important to go over your work several times to make sure it’s polished and flows well. No matter what your you’re writing, you’re your credibility will be eroded if readers find mispelled misspelled words, misused words, missing or extra words, or other typos. And  a recent study published in Huffington Post points to a close correlation between accuracy of writing and income from writing — a no-brainer.

I’ve presented workshops and written several articles (here’s a good one) on tips for approaching the whole editing and revising process, starting with macro issues like logistics, characterisation, plot, and pacing, and working your way through awkward phrasing and wordiness down to micro errors like spelling and punctuation. In fact, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Revise for Success,” a step-by-step approach to revising your novel, at Steven James’ writers conference, Troubleshooting Your Novel, in Nashville on January 17.

For a whole book on how to nail this critical process to create a novel that shines, check out James Scott Bell’s excellent Revision & Self-Editing for Publication. Writers also find my Fire up Your Fiction very helpful.

For today, my topic is on that final step, after you’ve resolved all big-picture content problems and even most style issues, such as slow pacing, awkward sentence structure, or overly wordy phrasing. My tips today are on the final “proofreading” step, how to ferret out those tiny little gremlins that escape your notice when you’re concentrating on content and even style issues.

When we read our own work, we’re so familiar with what we want to say that we fill in words that aren’t actually on the page, and skip over slightly misspelled words that still pass spellcheck, or little words that shouldn’t be there. Of course, getting detail-oriented, eagle-eyed nerdy friends who are great at spelling to read it carefully is a great option, if you know of some. If not, or in addition to that, I’m providing some tips for fooling your brain into thinking it hasn’t read this story before.

As someone trained to see errors, I find them everywhere – on signs and menus, in blog posts and articles, on website copy, and in published books. As an example, here’s the description of a workshop that appeared on a conference website a while back, which I’ve shortened and disguised a bit. Can you spot the 9-10 errors in this description? (Just for fun, I’ve added a few more errors.)

Copy with little typos: One of the most important ways to connect with your audience an attract new readers is through author interviews and public readings. How can you master the the confidence and skills to successfully preform in front of an audience? There are a few time tested trick to perform you work well for an audience. This workshop will discuss techniques for speaking in pubic and will also cover using social media sites lie YouTube to to host audio versions of your work.

 Errors fixed in blue: One of the most important ways to connect with your audience and attract new readers is through author interviews and public readings. How can you master the confidence and skills to successfully perform in front of an audience? There are a few timetested tricks for performing your work well for an audience. This workshop will discuss techniques for speaking in public and will also cover using social media sites like YouTube to host audio versions of your work.

And I just happen to be judging short stories in the thriller genre for Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction 2014 contest, where I was given 147 short stories and asked to choose only 10 of those to go on to the next level. Since I have to reject 137 of these stories, I have to be pretty ruthless, and any that aren’t polished won’t make the cut. Typos or spelling errors on the first page are an automatic no. As are long boring descriptions, a confusing opening, cardboard characters, lack of tension or intrigue, tedious repetitions, and switches in verb tense.

Here are some tips for fooling your brain into thinking your story is something new, something you need to read critically and revise ruthlessly before it reaches the demanding eyes of a literary agent, acquiring editor, contest judge, or picky reviewer.

1. Set it aside for a while. First, if you can, put your article, blog post, or short story away for a day or two before revising and editing it, and your book manuscript away for a few weeks or even a month, if possible, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and a bit of emotional distance. If you’re on a tight deadline, start at #2.

2. Start with Word’s spell-check and check those squiggly red and blue lines under words. Don’t rely on Spellcheck, though, as it misses a lot (like the well-known gaffe above, “pubic” for “public”), and often suggests changes that make something correct incorrect. For example, in the Agent Dallas thriller manuscript I’m editing for L.J. Sellers, The Trap, MS Word suggests that “I like your thinking” (as in “I like how you think”) should be “I like you’re thinking.” And it often suggests the wrong its/it’s, and misses all kinds of typos in manuscripts I edit, like “crowed” for “crowded,” “father” for “farther,” “county” for “country,” and “manger” or “manager.” So definitely don’t trust spell-check blindly.

3. Use my two quick, clickable e-resources to verify spelling and word choices: QUICK CLICKS: SPELLING LIST – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips, and QUICK CLICKS: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips. Click on the titles to check them out. These handy resources will save you tons of time looking up words in the dictionary, and every word is verified as correct.

4. Do a search (“Find”) for words you know how to spell but tend to spell wrong when you’re in a hurry, especially ones spell-check won’t flag, like “you” for “your,” or “your” for “you’re,” “there” for “they’re” or “their,” etc.

Then choose some of the following strategies, which are also excellent for picking up on clunky sentences and awkward phrasing. 

~ Increase the size of the type to 150% or 160%, by clicking on the + sign at the bottom right of the document.

~ Change the font to one that looks quite different to fool your eyes and brain into thinking this is new material you’ve never read (or thought of) before, so you need to pay close attention.

Try Comic Sansor Franklin Gothic Book or Book Antiqua.

~ Format it to book size, like 6″ x 9″, change the font to something nice, like Georgiaor Cambria, change it to single-spaced,  format it to two-column landscape, so it looks like an open book, then print it up and read it in a different location, somewhere you don’t write, preferably out of your home.

~ Send it to your Kindle or other e-reader and read it in a different location, preferably not at home.

~ In a print version, place a ruler or piece of paper under the line you’re reading to keep from skipping ahead. Or keep your finger under each word as you read.

~ Read it out loud. Wherever you stumble, your readers will, too. This will also help with punctuation. If you pause briefly, put in a comma. If you pause for longer, put in a period. (Best to avoid or minimize semicolons in fiction, and keep them right out of casual dialogue. And reserve exclamation marks for when someone is screaming or yelling, shocked, or in pain.)

~ Read the whole thing backwards or upside down (!). I’ve heard these suggestions, but haven’t actually done this myself, and probably won’t.

~ Get your computer to read it aloud to you, while you follow along. Newer versions of Word offer this, and Macs do, too. In Word 2010, for example, here’s how you enable text-to-speech: First, add “Speak” to the Quick Access Toolbar. Along the very top above “File,” the line that starts with W for word, at the far right is a down arrow. Click that. It will say “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.” Click “More Commands.” In the “Choose Commands” from the list, select “All Commands.” Scroll down to the “Speak” command, select it, and then click “Add.” Click “OK.” When you want to use the text-to-speech command, you’ll use the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, which looks like a speech bubble on a cartoon. To hear some text read aloud, highlight the paragraph or chapter you want to hear aloud, then click the Speak icon on the toolbar.

Follow along the text while listening to the text being read aloud. Stop it whenever you need to add or delete a word, or fix awkward phrasing.

~ If you’re self-publishing, get a sample book printed by CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) and read it somewhere else in your home, in a room where you don’t work, or better yet, away from your home, like in a coffee shop, a park, or the beach. I read one of mine in book form, pen in hand, on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, while stretched out in a chaise longue under one of those grass huts, and I caught all kinds of repetitions, sentences that didn’t flow as well as they could, were too wordy, or generally needed polishing, etc., as well as the odd typo.

You could also try Perfectit software, which I just recently heard about and haven’t tried, since I don’t feel I need it. Here’s their website: http://www.intelligentediting.com/standardversion.aspx. It’s not free.

Writers – do you have any other strategies to add for catching all those little typos lurking in your manuscript? Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

Besides publishing numerous blog posts, her popular Editor’s Guides to Writing Compelling Fiction, the award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers, as well as her handy, clickable e-resources, Quick Clicks: Word Usage and Quick Clicks: Spelling List, Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor. Find Jodie on Facebookand Twitter, and sign up for her occasional newsletter here. Author website: JodieRenner.com.
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Gerunds Be Gone

Nancy J. Cohen

What’s wrong with this sentence: “Shutting off the ignition, she threw her keys into her purse and emerged into the bright sunshine.”

How can you throw your keys into a purse when you are using them to shut off the ignition?

This type of “ing” phrase is called a gerund. I never knew what it was until a critique partner pointed out that I was using them liberally. And I hate to say it, but this was several years into my published works. Even now, I’m not sure this is the correct grammatical term.

I learned my lesson, and as I’m now going through my backlist mystery titles making updates and tightening sentence structure, I am finding more phrasing like the one above.

Beware these illogical phrases in your own work. Here are some examples:

NO: Flinging the door wide, she stepped inside the darkened interior.
YES: She flung the door wide and stepped inside the darkened interior.

NO: Taking a sip of orange juice, she put her glass down and opened the newspaper.
YES: After taking a sip of orange juice, she put her glass down and opened the newspaper.

NO: Racing down the street, she came to a halt when the light turned red.
YES: She raced down the street, coming to a halt when the light turned red.

NO: Shaking the lady’s hand, she stepped back to admire her cobalt dress.
YES: After exchanging a handshake, she stepped back to admire the other woman’s cobalt dress.

It’s okay to use an “ing” phrase in thoughts. For example, you can say, “Wishing she could change the events of the past few hours, she sped down the road.

What is your grammatical Achilles Heel?

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Just the Right Word is Only a Click Away!

by Jodie Renner, editor and author, @JodieRennerEd

How are your word usage and spelling skills? Try this quiz to find out.

Would you say, “Please join Kerry and me” or “Please join Kerry and I”? Do you lay down or lie down for a nap? Should you rein in or reign in your impulses? Did chaos rein or reign in the classroom for the student teacher? The homicide detective arrived at the scene of the grizzly (or is it grisly) murder. How did that effect (or is it affect) you? What was the effect/affect of that show on your kids?

Did the elicit or the illicit lovers have a discrete or discreet rendezvous? Do you insure, ensure, or assure that your seat belt is fastened? Do you hone in or home in on a problem? Do you say “He got his just desserts” or “He got his just deserts”?

Which is correct, “between you and me” or “between you and I”? Do you peak at a mountain peek or vice-versa? And do those juicy bits of gossip peak your curiosity or pique your curiosity? Do you pore over or pour over the details of a document? Did the singer damage her vocal chords or vocal cords? What’s the difference between continual and continuous? allusion and illusion? aural and oral? idyllic and ideal? further and farther? a gourmet and a gourmand? fictional, fictitious, and fictive? jibe and gibe? e.g. and i.e.? bizarre and bazaar?

What are the main differences between American and British spelling? Do Canadians use British or American, spelling, words and expressions? And what the heck is “codswallop”?

And for you fiction writers, what are the word length guidelines for flash fiction, short short stories, short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels? What’s the difference between an antagonist and an antihero? What’s a crucible in fiction? How about dramatic irony? How is a metaphor different from a simile? What’s a McGuffin?

Scroll down for the answers to most of these questions, and you can find the rest and many more in my handy, clickable, time-saving Quick Clicks: Word Usage – Style and Usage Tips for Busy Writers and Editors.


This e-resource and my Quick Clicks: Spelling List – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips are also available as PDFs for $2.99 (or both for $4.99) through me, at info (at) JodieRenner (dot) com.

Both of these e-resources for writers, editors, proofreaders, and anyone with a writing project on the go have an alphabetical “Key” of clickable groups of letters, like ca  ce  ci  ch  cl  cr  etc. at the beginning, to click on to quickly find words starting with those two letters. Then on each page you click on “Home” or “Back” to get back to the KEY to quickly find another word.

Some excerpts from Quick Clicks: Word Usage, mostly in alphabetical order:

affect; effectaffect (verb) means to influence or have an effect on: “The state of the economy affects businesses.” Effect (noun) means a result: “A cooperative, friendly work environment has a positive effect on staff morale.” A good way to remember the difference is that affect starts with an “a” just like “action” and it’s an action verb; whereas effect is usually a noun. (However, effect can also be used as a verb, meaning to cause, to make happen, produce: “The new president will effect many changes.”)

allusion; illusion – an allusion in an indirect reference to something: “The boss made an allusion to Peter’s earlier career during his evaluation.” An illusion is a misconception, unreal image, or false impression: “Peter had no illusions about how tough it was going to be to meet his employer’s expectations.”

“and me” or “and I”? – Is it “Frank and me worked on that project last week” or “Frank and I worked on that project last week?” Is it “Save seats for Carole and I” or “Save seats for Carole and me”? Here’s a little trick that always works for these cases: Take out the other person’s name and the “and.” If what you’re left with makes sense, that’s the word you need in the original sentence, including the other person. Would you say “me worked on that project”? No, so it’s “Frank and I worked…” Would you say “Save a seat for I” or “Save a seat for me”? You’d use the “and me” there, so add back the other name and it’s “Save seats for Carole and me.”

assure; ensure; insureassure means to give confidence to or put someone’s mind at ease, as in to assure your child you’ll be home soon; ensure means to make certain, as in to ensure you take precautions; insure means to guarantee against loss, as in to insure your car. “Brent assured her that insuring her possessions now would ensure she would be reimbursed for lost or stolen items later.”

aural, oralaural means of or relating to the ears or to hearing; oral means of or relating to the mouth or speaking. Not usually an issue, but apparently when “the pill” was first introduced in the early 1960s as the first oral contraceptive, some women reportedly mistook “oral” for “aural” and stuffed pills into their ears! (Thanks to Garner for this little anecdote – whether it’s actually true or not!)

between you and me is correct – never “between you and I.”

bizarre; bazaarbizarre means strange, startlingly odd; bazaar is a market.

chord; cordchord is reserved for music; cord = string, rope; a measure of wood; ribbed fabric; and vocal cords

continual; continuouscontinual = frequently occurring, intermittent, as in continual complaints; continuous = nonstop, occurring without interruption; unceasing, as in a continuous siren

deserts, desserts – deserts = something someone deserved – “He got his just deserts.” desserts = sweet choices for at the end of a meal. (And then there’s deserts, arid regions with very little rain.)

discreet; discretediscreet = unobtrusive, tactful, circumspect, judicious (They had a discreet meeting in the back corner of a small coffeeshop); discrete = separate, distinct, unconnected (several discrete sections)

e.g., or i.e.,i.e., means “that is”; e.g., means “for the sake of example” or “for example.” i.e., specifies or explains; e.g., simply indicates an example. Note that both have two periods and both are followed by a comma. Chicago style is to use these two-character abbreviations only within parentheses or in notes; in regular prose, use “for example,” or “that is,”

elicit; illicitelicit (v) = to draw out an answer, information, etc. (elicit an apology); illicit (adj) = illegal (an illicit scheme)

em dash (—) Longer than an en dash (–), which is longer than a hyphen (-), used within words. To make the em dash, click on Ctrl+Alt+minus (far top right, on the number pad).

en dash (–) Ctrl + minus sign (far top right, on the number pad). Often used in nonfiction, with a space on either side of the dash. Fiction tends to use the longer em dash (—) instead, with no spaces on either side.

farther; furtherfarther is mainly used for physical distances; further is for time or quantity. “He lives about three miles farther down this road.” But “We need to look into this further.”

fictional; fictitious; fictive – CMOS: fictional means “of, relating to, or characteristic of imagination” (a fictional story); fictitious means “imaginary, counterfeit, false” (a fictitious name); fictive means “possessing the talent for imaginative creation” (a fictive gift)

gibe; jibegibe = a biting insult or taunt: “The angry crowd hurled gibes as the handcuffed suspect passed.” jibe = to fit or coincide – “The conclusion didn’t jibe with the facts.”

gourmet; gourmandgourmet = one who knows and appreciates the fine points of food and drink; gourmand = one who is excessively fond of food and drink, glutton

grisly; grizzly; grizzledgrisly = gruesome, horrible, as in “grisly details”; grizzly = species of large bear, also grayish; grizzled = gray hair or beard.

him and me; he and I – Use “him and me” for object (receiver) of the action: They invited him and me to the reception. Use “he and I” for the subject (doer) of the action: “He and I arrived at 7 p.m.” If in doubt, just use one of the two persons to try it out. Would you say “Him arrived”? or “Me arrived”? No, so it’s “He and I arrived.” Would you say “They invited I”? No, so it’s “They invited him and me.” Same applies to she and I vs. her and me.

home; hone – you hone your skills (hone means to sharpen), but you home in on something, like a homing pigeon comes closer and closer to its target. “hone in” is incorrect and to be avoided.

idyllic; idealidyllic = charming, picturesque; ideal = perfect

implicit; explicitimplicit = not specifically stated but suggested; explicit = deliberately spelled out

lay; lieLay requires a direct object – you lay something down: “Lay your pens down.” Lie does not require or take a direct object – You lie down for a nap. Grandma lies down every afternoon for a rest.

The verb tenses of lay are lay, laid, laid, laying. She laid the baby in the cradle this morning. I laid the book there yesterday. These rumors have been laid to rest.

The verb tenses of lie are lie, lay, lain, lying. She was tired in the afternoon so she lay down on the couch for a while. (past) Grandpa hasn’t yet lain down today.

peak; peek; pique – A peak is an apex, as in a mountain peak; a peek is a quick or illicit glance. (To help remember which is which, when you peek at something, you see it (both have “ee”). To pique is to annoy or arouse, so an article or a bit of gossip piques one’s interest. A fit of pique is an episode of peevishness and wounded vanity.

pore over or pour over?pore = to read or study attentively – “poring over the details” (not “pouring,” unless you’re pouring milk over your cereal!)

rein; reign – A rein (usu. plural) controls a horse; it is the right word in idioms such as “take the reins,” “give free rein,” and, as a verb, “rein in.” A reign is a state of or term of dominion, especially that of a monarch but by extension dominance in some field. This is the right word in idioms such as “reign of terror” and “to reign supreme.”

British expression: What a load of codswallop! = That’s baloney! No way!

FICTION TERMS:

Average lengths of literary works:

These are rough guidelines, and there is often a bit of overlap. Individual publishers’ word-count guidelines may vary.

~ Flash fiction: A story that is less than 500 words long.

~ Short short story: A story that is roughly between 500 and 1000 words long.

~ Short story: A story that’s usually between 1,000 and 7,500 words long.

~ Novelette: A story roughly between 7500 and 17,500 words long. (Some consider the term novelette to be outdated.)

~ Novella: Fiction that falls between a short story and a novel; usually between 17,500 and 50,000 words long.

~ Novel: Fiction that is about 50,000 or more words long.

Antagonist: The main character or force in fiction that tries to stop the protagonist (the hero or heroine of the story) from achieving his/her goal.

Antihero: A protagonist who has no (or few) heroic virtues or qualities (such as being morally good, idealistic, courageous, noble), blurring the line between hero and villain. An antihero has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero, at least at the beginning of the novel.

Metaphor: a word or phrase that means one thing and is used to refer to another thing to emphasize their similar qualities, e.g., He used the metaphor of the family to describe the role of the state. Something that is intended to represent another situation or idea: It is easy to see the crumbling building as a metaphor for the society of the time. (Macmillan dictionary) “He was drowning in paperwork” is a metaphor in which having to deal with a lot of paperwork is being compared to drowning in an ocean of water. (M-W)

Simile: a phrase that describes something by comparing it to something else using the word “like” or “as”, for example, “He eats like a pig.” She’s as fierce as a tiger” is a simile, but “She’s a tiger when she’s angry” is a metaphor.

McGuffin: A common plot device used in films and novels, especially mysteries. Basically used to distract the reader from the real issues. It’s an image or object or place that is referred to occasionally to spark interest, but which ultimately turns out not to be significant or relevant to the plot.

How did you do?  Do you have any other often-confused words or terms to add? And suggestions always welcome for these two e-resources as well!

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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