Thursday, August 4, 2016

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 31: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I lied in the title. 
No one knowledgeable, to my knowledge, tells writers to ignore the essentials—small stuff—like spelling and grammar and basic facts in manuscripts and books.
But as often as those things are ignored nowadays, you’d think it was part of the curriculum somewhere. Time was, it was so difficult to find a spelling error in a published book that it was noteworthy.
No longer.
With the advent of do-it-yourself self-publishing, the proliferation of small presses who can’t afford copy editors and proofreaders, and even the staff cutbacks at major publishers, errors of the simplest kind now slip through regularly.
As I write this I am in the middle of a novel I was asked to review, and on several occasions the author has called those leather straps you use to control a horse “reigns.” It’s a homonym, sure, but it’s such a ridiculous error there’s no excuse for it. Likewise his saying a just-planted wheat field had been “sewn.” That one had me in stitches.
Then there are incorrect facts, if such an oxymoron exists. Some time back I read a novel by an author who has written many, many paperback Westerns for major publishers. And yet he continually referred to the “traces” on a harnessed team as if they were the lines (or reins, if you’d rather, but lines is the more common term). “Traces” are something else altogether on a harness, and he ought to know the difference—or not use the word if he doesn’t.
We all make mistakes. But there are mistakes, and there are mistakes.
Sometimes writing instructors will tell you to blow by that simple stuff in the initial draft in order to get the story down. But that is with the expectation that you’ll go back and fix it. Unfortunately, too many authors—and publishers—don’t fix it.
And that shows a lack of respect for readers. Of all things, a writer ought to be literate.


  1. Well, you're certainly write, er, right there. Modern publishing is very lax. I continue to cringe at those who use "further" to mean "farther," and those who use "which" when "that" is the correct word, and "capital" (money) when they mean "capitol" (a seat of government). Well, as you say, we all make misteaks, but fortunately my spelling checker catches them - sometimes.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Spelling checkers catch many errors, but at the same time give us a false sense of security. As with "further" and "farther" or "sown" and "sewn" the word may be spelled correctly but is still the wrong word.

  2. Bravo, Rod! Thanks for raising the consciousness.

  3. This topic is one that I care deeply about. As someone who cowboys for a living, it only takes me about three pages to figure out if someone has any idea what they are talking about with horses, cows, and people who work the land, then or now. I have been asked by other writers to help with these details, but when I get to the page where a cow falls into a hole (?) and the cowboy has to pull it out with a rope (?) and there is a jaguar (mountain lion) up above on the rocks, I have to bow out.

    1. Thanks, Amy. There are all kinds of silly things people write when they don't know any better. The old saw, "look before you leap" may well apply, as in "learn before you write."