The curse of the proofreading mind

What is a proofreading mind?

I can’t let an error stand.

When writing what should be first drafts, KNOWING that they will be imperfect, and probably completely changed in the future, I can’t stop my obsessive mind from fixing EVERY typographic flaw, every incorrect word, every piece of misplaced punctuation, every spelling mistake.

I can’t read my own work to EDIT it for CONTENT when the form is somehow wrong.

I don’t fight it any more. It takes longer to fight being compulsive about ‘proper’ formatting, than it takes to just fix it and move on.

Mostly, if I make a typing mistake, my brain and fingers catch it immediately.

If it’s a new mistake, I force myself to pay attention so I am much less likely to make that particular mistake again.

Irrational behavior

I know it’s not rational behavior.

Maybe it comes from the very well of irrationality that constitutes creativity – and I SHOULDN’T interfere with it.

Many writing teachers recommend turning off the internal critic when writing first and rough drafts, ‘just to get the story out.’

I don’t seem to be able to do that.

Possibly my brain is committed to the idea that this is it, this is going to be the final version, this will be perfect, this will be published – and can’t take in the possibility that, after ALL this relentless preparation (it can take a month to write a scene), I must put out perfect prose.

Even as I know that’s not true: there has NEVER been, in my writing, a scene which came out perfect from the beginning.

Where does it come from?

As a person with CFS, I can claim brain fog – and the huge extra effort we all put in to attempt to appear normal – and NOT brain fogged.

Standards – I grew up either with books which were perfect (or, more likely, I didn’t notice their occasional defects), so I’m not willing to produce less-than-perfect (typographically, orthographically) output.

I didn’t learn English as most Americans do, in school, because I only did Kindergarten and part of first grade  (or K, 1st and part of 2nd – it WAS a very long time ago) before my parents took me to Mexico to live. The English I received in the bilingual school I attended there was mostly ESL – most of my teachers were happy that I was well-behaved and had my nose in a book.

So there were few occasions when I actually had to produce something written, in English. Until my second year of college, when I had transferred to Seattle University as a junior, took Freshman English thinking I had to (nobody did much to make me aware of requirements beyond handing me the printed book), and wrote a single term paper. That came out well, I remember – and then I found out that I hadn’t needed the course because I had junior standing.

So, no more writing in college. Just mountains of reading all over the map. I’m an omnivore.

Again, I don’t remember typographical mistakes in those books.

What am I going to do about it?

Nothing.

I figure its opposite is worse.

Now that I’m a writer, I see typos and incorrect usages and mistakes in spelling as if they had been set in larger blood-red type.

Stamp out! Die!

The funny part? That I still find typos later – just like everyone else does.

‘Freedom from typos’ is an illusion.

We all need our illusions to survive.

If you find any of my little errors, even in posts written ages ago, PLEASE let me know my slip is showing. I will be very, very grateful.

For writers: What’s your pet illusion? The one that makes it possible to write?

For readers: What do you find unforgivable in what you read? What throws you out of the story?

Please leave a comment.

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15 thoughts on “The curse of the proofreading mind

  1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    The funny part? That I still find typos later – just like everyone else does.

    ‘Freedom from typos’ is an illusion.

    LOL! So true! I also catch – and fix – typos as I write. And I find more typos later. The latter used to astonish me. (Newbie.) No more!

    Catching typos and sentence-flow issues on the fly doesn’t bother me. Quick and easy to fix, and it doesn’t derail me.

    Perfectionist thinking, however? Now that one will bite me, if I let it. I find I must “dare to be bad” when my critical voice is tuned to high. Although the slogan I use to help get free is the Lutheran “Sin boldly.”

    The issue there is the freezing of my creative voice. Of course I’m not going to release a story that’s not ready for real readers. But I’ve got to free my creative voice. Once I accomplish that, I usually find that the writing is not, in fact, bad. That was fear talking.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I free my ‘creative voice’ by doggedly picking at things until I really understand a scene, why it’s there, what are the cross-connections, how it contributes to the end – that’s the part where it goes from a rough draft to a scene that may be allowed out of the house in public. Once all those bits and pieces are examined and understood, it seems much easier to let go and write.

      So whenever I face Resistance to writing actual words, I find I just need to dig longer and deeper: I’m not ready. It’s actually kind of fun.

      Please explain more about ‘sin boldly’ – I’m Catholic. I haven’t heard that one.

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      1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

        It comes from a letter written by Martin Luther in 1521. The letter starts off:

        Of course, you can only know and absolve those sins which have been confessed to you; sins which have not been confessed to you, you neither need to know nor can you absolve them. That is reaching too high, dear gentlemen.

        Later in the letter, the relevant passage arrives:

        If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness…

        What it means to me:

        I see sin as the state of being apart from God. By our very nature, we are apart from God. And being apart from God, we make mistakes. All the time. Mistakes of judgment, mistakes of comprehension, mistakes of intention, mistakes of commission, mistakes of omission.

        Under this understanding, it would be possible to become timid and grow even further from God and from the glorious person God calls me to be. Or, I might exert myself to be perfect – not possible – and grow rigid and/or prideful. There are undoubtedly as many ways to try to avoid sin as there are people. And all of them futile, leading to worse results, not better.

        Therefore, I must live boldly, listening as best I can to that “still, small voice” and willingly trusting God to shed grace over my mistakes. In the bold living, I will undoubtedly sin boldly, but God is good, and thus all shall be well.

        Forgive me for the long comment! Not sure I am wise to post it. Before this comment, I’ve never written about religion online. I suspect I should delete this without letting it go live.

        But… you did ask. 😀 So I’m going to follow the slogan in question and risk letting this stand. 😉

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I’m delighted you answered my question. Thanks for taking the time.

          It is all a part of “on your own intelligence rely not” that I’ve had pointed out to me quite recently – though I’m sure I’ve read it before. Sometimes things don’t stick until you need them and run into them again.

          Sometimes I just have to accept that I can’t fix everything, that I don’t KNOW everything – but I’m not expected to. I’m only expected to keep trying, to listen carefully to what I hear and read, and to assess the consequences of my choices (the ones I know reasonably well) and the choices of others (not knowing their true motivations), and fix my own life with that knowledge. That, and actively seek good guidance. I guess you’d call that ‘sinning boldly.’

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      2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

        Sometimes I just have to accept that I can’t fix everything, that I don’t KNOW everything – but I’m not expected to. I’m only expected to keep trying…

        Nicely articulated, Alicia. Thank you!

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  2. Rachel6

    Like you, I usually catch mistakes as I’m typing them. And I HAVE to catch them!

    Pet illusions? Hmm…that this will magically come close to the picture in my head, that my writing group will find it as funny as I, that I will reread it in a year and smile instead of cringe. 😉

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m starting to think that the proofreading mind may be a good thing, a reaction to too much chatspeak and other assaults on the language.

      As for the distance between the mental picture and the one elicited by the written word: that’s what drives writers to keep learning. And thank God for it, or writing would not have anything special to it.

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  3. clairechase51

    As a reader, I find I have different standards. If I am reading a book or something more formally written, I will notice typos a little easier because they are so out of place. They will stop me in my tracks, sometimes and they are distracting to the subject of what I am reading. If it is a quick email sent from a friend…I might notice spelling typos, but rarely notice punctuation errors. I am very forgiving of these and glide on by…grateful for the email, knowing how we all struggle to keep up with emails.

    Sometimes I proof read for a friend. When I proof read, I am more looking for errors than I am enjoying what I am reading. I guess when I want to enjoy what I am reading, I don’t look for mistakes. 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I don’t LOOK for the darned things – they jump up and bite me. I was more forgiving as a reader, probably.

      Casual writing has lower standards – and I can’t seem to keep the autocorrect features from making some abominable changes.

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      1. clairechase51

        As a writer, I suppose they would jump out at you. At least you can fix them! We need people like you, else there would be mistakes everywhere. I’m glad you have accepted yourself as you are. 🙂

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  4. Jaye

    I have the same problem. My inner Editor is strident and loud and impossible to squelch. Have you tried writing in longhand? It actually uses a different part of the brain than does typing. Can’t hurt.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Longhand is great, Jaye, except that then I have to transfer it into something in text – so it’s searchable.

      I go ‘to the papers,’ either writing longhand or editing on a paper copy, any time my brain gives me guff. The ‘different part of the brain’ connect is always good to jolt me out of the tiny circles my brain gets into. I was there this morning, after a particularly slow week. Cleared things right up.

      Then the only problem I have is writing too fast – and not being able to read it. I go for a considered clear flow – unless the ideas overwhelm.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Just wish I could turn it off occasionally. I know! I will figure out how to turn off the squiggly red lines – that would get rid of half of them.

      I’d just ONCE like to experience the freedom of writing WITHOUT the screaming inner editor we’re stuck with. Of course, then you have to go clean up the mess later.

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