What is Typo Blindness?
A typo is a typographical error. Typo Blindness occurs when a writer cannot see the errors in his or her own copy.
Clean copy. This is the goal to strive for when submitting a manuscript to an agent, editor, publisher, and, ultimately, a reader. Clean means error-free. No typographical errors; no misuse of homonyms or synonyms; no funky punctuation.
It’s tough to produce a 90,000 word manuscript that is error free, particularly after you have struggled with it, changed it, tweaked it, and revised it too many times to count. I know this from personal experience. I am a terrible typist. My critique partners rib me mercilessly about typos. I counter that with–that’s your job!
But that’s only a joke. It’s a professional’s job to make sure what they present is in the best shape possible. For a writer, clean copy is the mark of a professional and good workmanship.
Here are 10 Tips on Creating Clean Copy:
1. Understand typo blindness. It is difficult to catch your own spelling errors or typos because you know what the sentence is meant to say, so it’s very easy to skip over a missing word or a misspelled one. To borrow from AA, the first step is to acknowledge the problem without shame or judgment. Repeat after me: “I have trouble catching my own errors.” There, that wasn’t so painful, was it? Now let’s address how to minimize the problem.
2. Learn to love Spell Check. The Spelling & Grammar review function is free and easy. It’s right up there on your tool bar. I recommend writers run Spell Check after every writing session. I now request that my editing clients run spell check before submitting a manuscript to me. In addition to catching typos, Spell & Gram also questions word usage; sentence fragments and run-ons; proper nouns and names; awkward construction. Running it will force you to examine your sentences and style choices. It’s free. It’s helpful. Use it.
3. Don’t depend on Spell Check. Despite my praise above, it’s a helpful but imperfect function. Spell & Gram will not catch every homonym (words that sound alike) error. It is up to you to catch the won/one or right/write boo-boos.
4. Keep a list of trouble words. Certain words get me every time. I cannot type “sprint” the first time. It always comes out as “spring.” I also have trouble with certain character names. So, I keep a list. I run a Find Search for the misspelled versions of names that give me trouble, as well as certain words I type often. It doesn’t help to type the correct spelling. You need to find the wrong spelling. For instance, if you are writing about the city of New Orleans, and you find yourself transposing the “ea” in Orleans to “ae” – run a Find Search for the word “Orlaen.” Do this with any word that consistently gives you trouble.
The same applies to grammar or punctuation. If you have trouble with dialogue tags, run a Find Search for this: “, (quotation mark + comma) and this: “. (quotation mark + period). These are two common errors in punctuating dialogue. It happens when a writer transposes the two marks. Check for the incorrect usage.
5. Read the piece out loud. Slowly. You can do this from a print or a screen copy, but do it slowly and be certain to look at every word. If you read quickly, typo blindness can kick in and you are wasting your time.
6. Use a ruler. This is an old trick. On a printed copy, take a ruler, plop in onto the page, and read line by line above the ruler.
7. Change background color. For a screen copy, highlight the background in a different color. Looking at a soothing blue or green background instead of standard white makes the copy look different. When I read aloud, I use a blue-green background because I see the sentences in a different light–literally. I’m not sure if there is scientific or empirical evidence to back this up, but it works for me.
8. Use fresh eyes. Set the work aside for a while. When you can no longer recite your sentences by rote, pick it up again. Some distance will help you read what’s actually on the page, as opposed to what you mean to be on the page.
9. Use other eyes. If you belong to a critique group or work with beta readers, and those people read and mark up copy, that’s great. Their eyes can see what yours may miss. However, unless they are reading specifically to catch errors, they may miss some too. So, find a person who will read only for errors.
10. Hire a pro. The goal of this post is to help you send clean copy to an agent or editor. If you are submitting to a traditional publisher or to an agent with the goal of working with a traditional publisher, a line editor will be assigned to your story after revisions are made. If you are planning to self-publish, catching errors is probably all up to you. I strongly urge you to hire a professional line editor.
Suffering from typo blindness does not mean you are illiterate or lazy, but if you allow your story to be published or sent out full of errors, you are going to look illiterate or lazy.
Please also note: The above tips address only typos and typo blindness. Problems with story and story elements need a different type of help–from a professional editor. Like me. 🙂
10 thoughts on “How To Avoid Typo Blindness”
Excellent. I work as an editor for a magazine and I can tell you most of the things I have to correct are the same things over and over again–you instead of being your; it’s for its, etc. Have not thought about keeping a list, but that is an excellent suggestion.
Thank you for your comment, Janice.
I find the your/you’re and its/it’s errors embarrassing. Most writers know the proper usage, but these are the glaring errors that are so cringe-worthy.
Huzzah! Used to be, writers had the freedom to be “artists” and could let the traditional publisher be the “professionals”. Now more and more people self-publish, which is great, but I see an appalling number who want to remain the “artist” and expect the professionalism either to just happen or that they will be forgiven: “Oh, nobody really cares about that stuff if your book is good!”
I like the idea of a list, too. I’m going to start that right now. (Isn’t if funny that the spell-check here called me on “hurrah” but left it alone when I changed it to “huzzah”! It must like medieval words.
Okay, I swear I did not type “Isn’t if funny”.
LOL Genie. I was so paranoid that my post would have a typo. I decided it would be amusing.
The “nobody cares about that stuff” could apply to being factually correct or realistic, but I digress….
I consider myself an artist, but I also think we should respect ourselves and our language, and our readers, enough to get it right–to the best of our abilities. Typos happen, but it should be an “oops, sorry!” moment, not a blase’ one.
Huzzah, hurrah, they’re both cheers, right?
Terrific post and tips, Ramona. Thanks! I particularly appreciate #1. It’s easy to feel ashamed or insecure about out work. Knowing that typo blindness is normal can no doubt appease some of that negativity.
August, thank you for the comment. Errors are embarrassing, there is no doubt about that. I have yet to meet a writer who claims they can find all of their errors, so #1 is for all of us.
Great article, Ramona! I’ve been grading papers for ASU grad students and your article addressed all the common errors I see. I’m astonished at the number of students who have typo blindness. Thanks for providing a possible “cure.”
My secret trick for finding typos: use the Mac’s “text-to-speech” function to have the machine read me the copy out loud.