Errors & Omissions
Learning to Accept Imperfection
I graduated from the University of Florida. I earned two degrees. My B.A. is in History and German. My M.Ed. is in Secondary Education. I defended my dissertation in Administrative & Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh in April. I’ll soon graduate with a doctorate, the highest degree in my field. I teach both English and German. I help college students with essays and research papers. I’m considered an expert. In short, I’m no stranger to the written word.
My father-in-law found three errors in my published novel. My entire identity as a writer and scholar was destroyed by a single text message.
With the help of a strong community, and a lot of introspection, I’ve rebuilt my identity and self-worth. It’s stronger than it was before. Like the rest of my colleagues, I’m a flawed writer doing his best to tell a story. I will no longer demand perfection of myself or fellow authors with a misguided sense of douchy intellectual arrogance.
The How & Why
I was a smug douche for the first 34 years of my life. I sneered at CNN, Wall Street Journal, and other publications whenever I saw typos in their published copy.
“Fire that bum,” I’d say. “Automatic F”.
How could I commit such a cardinal sin? Should my novel also receive an automatic F from my readers?
In my shame, I thought it should. I was reluctant to even write this post. Why should I call attention to my flaws and write that F on the cover of my novel myself? Maybe no one else would notice it.
I talked to other authors. To my relief, I discovered I was not alone. Since I’m not alone, I felt obliged to start a dialogue on this important topic.
Indie authors and bestselling superstars alike suffer the occasional lapse in their published works. Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, spelled “wavered” as “waivered” and refers to Rupert Murdoch as “Rupert Murdock”. Sexton is a national political voice and a NYT bestselling author. I’ve found minor typos in the published work of some of my favorite writers of fiction. It happens.
But it shouldn’t. The questions remain. Why does it happen? How does it happen?
My publisher is a small press. Much of their editing is reliant on mechanical formatting software. Such programs won’t always catch omissions like a missing word.
But my editor should. Right?
Yeah. My editor is a saint. She caught 99.9% of the errors and omissions in a 472-page novel. However, she’s an academic like I am. We’re trained to read quickly, often scanning entire sentences and paragraphs with a single glance. When there’s a missing word, our brains fill it in for us. Many voracious readers of novels read books with similar strategies. Perhaps that’s why just one of my readers has noticed my novel’s flaws. On the other hand, perhaps everyone else is just being polite.
In short, both technology and the human eye are imperfect. Despite layers of protection, an error sometimes sneaks into the published draft.
I once took an urban planning course at the University of Florida. During one long lecture, our professor discussed all the measures different cities used to ameliorate traffic congestion. At its conclusion, the professor opined that city leaders should do their best to minimize traffic issues, but most accept the fact that some congestion is the price of prosperity and growth.
Like these mayors, we authors strive to ensure clean copies for our readers. Rest assured, I edit and revise until my contact lenses pop out of my eyes from staring at the computer screen too long. I hired an editor to do the same.
But it still happens.
When it does, we shouldn’t assume it’s a result of carelessness or stupidity. I’ve made both of those haughty judgments in the past.
It happens because writers, like everyone else on this planet, are imperfect. We should support and love our fellow writers when we discover errors and omissions in their drafts, blogs, and published novels.
As a former Grammar Pharisee, I’ve had my “Road to Damascus” moment. Having realized that I live in a house of glass, I’ll refrain from throwing stones. I hope that my readers will judge my work on the strength of my story, and forgive the occasional sin of syntax.
When the criticism of other Grammar Pharisees arrives, I will smile in resignation and accept it as fair recompense for the numerous times I’ve been an arrogant douche in my lifetime. After building a deficit of negative karma in this field, I must now hope for grace. There are probably typos in this blog post. Since I’m on a bumpy Amtrak train to New York, just putting a word together is difficult.
Feel free to share your own personal stories of error & judgment. As imperfect writers, we’re all in this together!