That said, I was reading for pleasure a few nights ago (an historical novel, no less!) when my editorial alarm went off like an air-raid siren, forcing me to pause my journey through the narrative and reread not just the previous sentence but several pages of text.
One character was a female named Miss Collins. The male counterpoint character was Mr. Curran. As I breezed along in my reading of the dialogue, I suddenly read something like this: “Well, Miss Curran, what do you think of that?” I was confused. I looked back. Had I read that correctly? Yep, that’s what it said. Miss Curran. I resumed reading. And then I ran across another instance of the same thing: Miss Curran.
I flipped back a couple of pages to double-check the characters’ respective names. The author had gotten himself confused. Understandable error. I have done a similar thing myself, but I have gotten the names of nonfiction people, real people, wrong sometimes. The brain thinks one name, but the fingers type another, though similar, name. “Community” comes out as “communist.” “United States” goes onto the paper as “Untied States.” (Hey, one of my favorite periods of study is the War Between the States, and they literally were “untied,” so I have an excuse!)
But some editor apparently missed the name switch, too. The problem is that I, as a reader, not an editor, saw it and was confused by it. The author lost credibility.
Oh, it’s just a minor detail, you might think. But details matter. They can make or break our writing.
When I was a textbook author, I never ceased to be amazed by how little (or sometimes even big!) errors could slip past so many different sets of eyes, all paid to be peeled to catch such errors.
We authors read and reread the text we had written before we sent it off to the editors, hoping to make their job as easy as we could. Error-free copy. They went over it with first a magnifying glass and then followed that with a second pass using a microscope, and every time they caught errors and corrected them.
With all those beady little eyes examining the text, surely we would turn out a perfect textbook, right?
It never happened. Invariably, shortly after the new book was released to the public marketplace, we would get a phone call in the authors’ department from a customer who gleefully declared, “I found an error in your new book. Page 127, paragraph 3, line 6.”
“They” say that for ever customer who calls with an error they’ve found, ten other customers also see the same error but don’t call. But they talk to other potential customers. I hate to think how many of those potential customers became former potential customers.
Let’s be careful. Self-edit closely. Proofread carefully. Do your dead-level best to catch every mistake or discrepancy. Produce the best writing (and editing) of which you’re capable.
But realize that no matter what you do, it will never be perfectly error-free. And rather than becoming paranoid about it, refusing to let your baby go lest it contain an error, just do the best you can and submit it. That’s all you can do. Nothing will be perfect!