WHY I CAN'T EDIT MYSELF by Ilene Schneider



The other day, I noticed the name of a salon: [something]’s Kutz. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to get a haircut at a place called Klutz?

A while later, I read about the formation of an organization, but I thought the article’s author had written “fornication.”
            
There are three things going on here. One, I have a very disturbed subconscious. Two, it’s time to go to the optometrist and get my prescription for the reading part of my lenses changed. And, three, we see what we expect to see.

It’s because of the last factor that I am completely unable to edit myself. (It’s also because that same pesky subconscious is convinced that every word I write is perfect and should not be changed or cut even if it is misspelled or unnecessary.)

Each of my books underwent numerous edits, readings, re-readings, re-edits, re-re … the same as all works by all authors do (or should). Inevitably, though, typos and worse still existed in the final printed copies. The nonfiction TALK DIRTY YIDDISH has at least one repeated paragraph. The first edition of CHANUKAH GUILT had several typos and an inaccurate place name. (I’m afraid to read the actual book of the second edition, which went through six edits. During the course of each I discovered more errors.) 

Within the first few minutes of his beginning to read UNLEAVENED DEAD (also printed after six edits), my husband asked if a time change was a red herring. It wasn’t. I then noticed a name error on the first page (I was sure I had done a search-and-replace when I changed the character’s name later in the book). An astute reader alerted me to another inadvertent name switch (of a location, not a character) a bit later in the book.

I am a good editor of others’ works, finding typos, inconsistencies, and other errors even (particularly) in books published by the Big Presses. And I have been known to stop reading self-published books that are poorly edited because all the mistakes interfere with the story.

So, if I can find others’ mistakes so easily, why am I blind to my own? As I said before, we see what we expect. I know what I meant to write, how I meant to spell a word, or the name of a character; so those words are what I read when I’m trying to edit my own works. If I know the word is supposed to be “striped,” I won’t notice I typed “stripped.” Or if someone led a class, I don’t realize the word should not be “lead;” after all, the mineral is pronounced the same as the past tense of the verb. (I just misspelled “pronounced” as “prounced” and couldn’t figure out why it was underlined with a broken red line!)

Shouldn’t the publisher’s editor find all those errors? Theoretically, yes. But it is also our job as writers to make sure our manuscripts are as “clean” as possible. When I submit a manuscript, I “know” it is as good as it can be. Then I receive the layout, review it, and find dozens of errors that I never saw before. And neither did the editor, who is not reviewing my manuscript only, but mine plus another dozen or so. After a while, we’re (or I am) on autopilot, skimming rather than reading.

I know some authors read their manuscripts backwards to find typos without being distracted by the plot or the syntax. I’ve tried it. I gave up after a page. It just didn’t work for me.

What techniques work for you? I’m willing to try anything. Except reading backwards.


 Bio:

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She recently retired from her day job to devote herself to writing. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and the award-winning Unleavened Dead; the 3rd, a work-in-progress, is titled Yom Killer. She also wrote the nonfiction Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek.

Comments

Thank you so much for visiting today, Ilene. I don't really think anyone can truly edit themselves. We can do a bit, but tend to read things as we thing they should be.
Janet Greger said…
I almost could have written this blog (maybe not as well). I frequently read phrases wrong and then can't figure out why the writer used that phrase. I blame it on undiagnosed dyslexia.

If you could really teach self editing to others, you;dmake alot of money.
JL Greger,
author of Ignore the Pain
I'm a professional editor. I'm really fussy. I can't edit my own work! I have two or three beta readers who are able to see the mistakes. They get the manuscript before submission. yet, even then, those sneaky little devils creep in. I blame the Menehune since we spend so much time in Hawaii...
Holli Castillo said…
Ilene, I actually do read mine backwards, all 80,00+ words, and still miss errors. The thing about errors is that most people also won't catch them, because our brains are wired to make sense of what we read, so the majority will read it the way you meant it, not the way you actually wrote it.

But there are always those that do catch them. I had someone point out a spelling error in my first novel that went undetected, and then another reader pointed out two errors that should have been really obvious, but just as obviously weren't.

I guess ultimately nothing is perfect, and we can only hope to self-edit as much as possible and then get another set of eyes to catch what we don't, realizing of course that some reader will catch something that no one else caught.

As a side note, I try to pass my errors off as irony or word play.It doesn't work, of course, but it helps me sleep at night.
Eileen Obser said…
Great post, Ilene. In reading Janet's and Holli's responses, guess what? They each have an error in the copy. I try so hard to make the work perfect before I send it out -- but I'm not infallible. My writing students know I'm a stickler for grammar and, as much as they love me, rejoice in pointing out errors in my blogs or whatever else. In my recent post on Persistence, I misspelled "memoirist" -- and that's what I am, a memoirist. I also left out a word in a sentence near the end. I received one phone call and one e-mail as a result. It's downright embarrassing.
ileneschneider said…
I ended the Preface to the 2nd edition of CHANUKAH GUILT with "And, finally, if you find any typos I still missed, please don’t tell me." LOL
I think we all suffer from erroritis. If this isn't a real word, it should be. My husband, who use to work for a New York publisher many years ago, reads all my copy, and sometimes an error still slips through. Fortunately, writing children's books, I can read mine backwards without too much trouble. I think we all have to admit we are human, and we make mistakes no matter how hard we try. But every time I find one in my own published copy, I wince. It still hurts. Beryl
Ann said…
As a professional editor, I still can't, and won't, edit my own work. One of the benefits of having a business partner is that we pass our edited versions of all our client's work to the other partner for review before the work is considered complete. And I ask her to edit pieces I've written, and I do the same for her.
Sharon Ervin said…
Had a brusque discussion with a fellow writer this week. I argued that a manuscript should be PERFECT in my eyes before I submit it anywhere, even to our critique group. The point is, if they find errors in my PERFECT effort––as objective readers often do––I can see them clearly and make repairs as efficiently as possible. My friend insisted she provides readers with what she terms "drafts," leaving plenty of raw material and shifting her responsibility to them to find the snafus. No one sees my drafts. I would rather no one else know how poorly I write before the polishing. My 10th published novel was released in May. Another is in the process. All have come from print publishers through editors who are amazingly skillful and tactful. I love them, every one.
Okey dokey! You seem to have hit the exposed nerve in all of us. LOL Great post, and I will be sharing it with others! Thanks! (And thanks for catching stuff in MI, too!)
What's even worse than missing errors in my own writing is when an editor changes something and HE makes an error! Like in my last letter-to-the-editor in the South Jersey Times. For some reason they always feel like that have to change SOMETHING. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's to prove someone's actually in the office working. And nine times out of ten, they make typos. I feel like telling them, "If you're going to change my writing, please, at least get it right!" It's embarrassing. In my last letter, they had me talking about the "stare" senator. It's only a letter-to-the-editor, but my name is on it.

Now I am rereading this multiple times because I am paranoid there is something I missed.

www.GreenerPastures--ACityGirlGoesCountry.blogspot.com
Terry Odell said…
For my latest manuscript, I finally did what people have been telling me to do forever. Read it aloud. It was a tedious process, and the dog wouldn't stay in the room with me, but I found a lot (not all) of things I'd missed when reading. I've also found that printing the manuscript in a different font, and in two columns makes it look different enough to fool the eye, and the shorter lines make different repeated words pop out. However, I know my editor will catch errors.
And, not that it makes one feel any better, an editor at HarperCollins said every book has typos. They're like cockroaches.
Patricia Gligor said…
Ilene,
I don't think any of us can successfully edit ourselves. I recently finished "Desperate Deeds," the third novel in my Malone mystery series, and, believe me, I went through that manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Still, my editor found a few mistakes. I'm thankful for my critique group and my editor!
Lanny Larcinese said…
Ilene,
Tho it seems I obsessively pore over the M/S and am sure it's as perfect as can be, a funny thing happens when I cut & paste it to an email to
beta readers. I always find errors in the email version. My theory: EVEN CHANGING THE FONT will make errors more visible than in the font we customarily work in.
Lanny Larcinese said…
Ilene,
Tho it seems I obsessively pore over the M/S and am sure it's as perfect as can be, a funny thing happens when I cut & paste it to an email to
beta readers. I always find errors in the email version. My theory: EVEN CHANGING THE FONT will make errors more visible than in the font we customarily work in.
sallybosco said…
Hi Ilene: This is a great post. What helps me is to activate the read function on my Mac and have it read back to me. I often catch typos that way. I also catch things that don't sound right. Sally Bosco
sallybosco.com
marja said…
Terrific post, Ilene, and I do the same thing. I read what I expect to see. Therefore, I have a couple of people who read my work and find the things I couldn't see.
Marja McGraw
ileneschneider said…
LOL. I know what you mean about rereading posts. I can't count the number of times I've read a message before posting, and then see the misspellings after it's "live." I love the "edit" button on FB posts!
rabbiauthor.com said…
I should try reading out loud. The problem is, I find it hard to work at home (too many distractions, from robocalls - with 3 medically fragile parents, we can't ignore the phone - to undone laundry whispering my name). I doubt talking to myself at Starbucks is a good idea.
Carolyn J. Rose said…
Setting the project aside for a few weeks or months helps me forgot what's there so my mind doesn't add missing words or correct errors without informing me of them. And reading aloud is a great way to catch errors but I'm prone to zone out and start reading too quickly to do much good.
rabbiauthor.com said…
I just recalled something I learned in Practical Rabbinics. If you get lazy and reuse a sermon from a previous year and a congregant remembers it, just respond, "Why, thank you. I am so glad to know you were listening and my words were important enough for you to recall." Maybe we could try the same with our readers: "I am so pleased you found those typos. It means you were paying attention."
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