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Three best practices to eliminate embarrassing typos

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Sometimes it's not our editing skills copy
Let’s start this off with a good dose of honesty.

How often do you push your writing to the very last minute of the deadline? You’re still writing fresh sentences, even during the eleventh hour.

If you’re a normal person, you’d answer that you’re still writing up until the last minute at least 85% of the time. Heck, I’d have to answer that way, too.

Well, then, it’s no wonder that we have errors in our writing! We’re trying to create new content (even if it’s just a sentence or two) at the same time we’re trying to read (really fast!) through what we’ve already written to catch those last, lingering typos and grammatical errors.

What inevitably happens? Editing embarrassment.

I’ll let you in on a classic case of editing embarrassment that happened to me just last week, and my email list got to witness the whole thing. (In case you’re not on my email list, you should know that my email list folks are fantastic, and the more I get to know them, the more I appreciate them. If you want to join the awesome email list, check out that subscribe box right there in the sidebar. >>>)

I had written last week’s post several days early, gave myself a gold star for planning ahead, and titled the post “The Lost Art of Reading Aloud.” As I was putting the post into WordPress and editing and tweaking and making everything look pretty, I added a few sentences here and there. After I’d published, I sent the post out to my email list. It was getting close to lunch time, and I was on other deadlines, and my fingers were moving faster than my brain.

What did I type into the subject line that went to my entire email list? “The lost are of reading aloud.” Holy smokes! There’s no hoping that one goes unnoticed!

Some of the kind-hearted folks on my email list gently pointed out the typo, as well as two other “little errors.” I’d misspelled the names of Dr. Seuss AND Tolkien! Talk about blasphemy.

I took a few moments to recover myself. I fixed the names in the published post, and then I decided to send a follow-up email, one with a little self-degrading humor and permission to revel in a persnickety editor’s humanity.

WELL, wouldn’t you know? There was another typo in that email. Gosh darn it, can’t catch a break. I decided to leave well enough alone and hope for silent forgiveness on the part of my list.

But I just couldn’t shake the string of errors. I tried to psychologically let myself off the hook in all the ways we always do. I was tired and hungry. I was preoccupied with another deadline. It was just four misspelled words out of over 1,000 – they just happened to be in prominent positions.

None of my excuses made me feel any better. I’m betting that when you have a major goof-up and try to convince yourself of all the perfectly good reasons that the goof-up is not a reflection of who you are, as an intelligent person, the excuses don’t do a lot to assuage your embarrassment much either.

It’s time for us to fess up.

Sometimes, it’s not our editing skills. It’s our time management skills.

Here are three practices that would improve the quality of our writing drastically, and help us to completely eliminate embarrassing typos, if only we would implement them regularly:

1. Finish the final draft early. It’s actually fairly easy to push yourself to finish the rough draft early. Even high school students can manage that. What distinguishes a pro from an amateur, though, is the ability to actually finish the final, polished, pitch-perfect draft early. And then do one, last proofread before sending it off.

2. Allow time for one last proofread after you’ve have finished adding content. Don't be in such a rush that you are trying to add new content while doing that one, last proofread. Oh, it is so tempting! You just added a couple of sentences here and there. Surely you don’t need to proofread again? Wrong. Writing and editing are two completely different mental processes. Even editors can’t write and edit at the same time (much as we like to think we can). If you’re in “writing mode,” you’re much more prone to make mistakes. You can best catch those mistakes when you’re in “editing mode.” So, if you add a sentence to a paragraph, go back and proofread the entire paragraph. It’ll only take a minute.

3. Do not attempt even simple multi-tasking while editing. Try to edit substantial chunks without interruptions or distractions. Close the web browser (or at least the inbox and Facebook tabs!), put your phone on do not disturb, turn off background TV or music with words. Try to edit chunks of at least 500-1,000 words at one time. Don’t think you can edit one paragraph, check the “bloop” from your Facebook tab, edit another paragraph, glance at the text message that came in, and then jump right back into editing the next paragraph, all while Lorde is singing about Royals and tigers on a gold leash or whatever. All of those micro-interruptions and auditory distractions completely undermine any ability to edit. Sure, take a break every few thousand words, so your eyes don’t glaze over, but make your breaks intentional.

And let’s remind ourselves that we’re all human. In this Age of Busyness, we sometimes suffer less from poor writing or editing skills and more from poor time management skills.

What about you? Any other time management practices that help you write and edit more effectively?

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There are four different publishing paths for the modern author.
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