No matter their level of talent, all novel writers make some of these editing mistakes at some point, even when they turn pro. When I was studying Creative Writing, I made all these mistakes and more so I can tell you I’ve been there. One of my motivations for becoming a copyeditor was to help writers eradicate all of these mistakes from their manuscripts. These are some of the errors that continuously crop up in work I have edited and some tips on how to correct them:
- Deceptively misspelled words
E.g. Defiantly instead of definitely.
I like to call these deceptively misspelled because they are correctly spelled words, just in the wrong context so they still appear to be correct when skimming over your work and aren’t picked up by spell check.
How to avoid them: Proofread your work thoroughly while editing your novel, checking through every word. I know it’s a hassle, but it does pay off in the end. If you don’t have time to do this or still miss some errors, research fiction editing services and see if one of them is right for you.
- The brain moves faster than the hands
E.g. Her Pin ksilk dress.
All writers have probably experienced this; your brain is fired up with ideas but your hands can’t keep up, even if you’re a touch typist like me. It leads to weird mistakes like the one above. Here are some more I have made:
- Do whateve we want.
- I think I can mold her into a good wife.
- Acting nice to her all the itme
And that was just from one page.
It’s also very common to accidentally leave out words, especially small ones like it’s, or, the etc. Our brains automatically fill in the blanks so we don’t even realise we’ve omitted the words even when editing a manuscript.
How to fix it: Basically, you shouldn’t. I’m a firm believer that when you’re in ‘the zone’ while writing, then you should stay there and nothing should distract you. If you have to stop to correct your spelling every ten seconds then it’s going to slow down your momentum, or you could even lose some of your best ideas.
My advice is, unless you’re writing a journalistic piece that needs to be delivered immediately, ignore these mistakes during your first draft and come back to correct them during the editing stage, or let your proofreader do it for you (it’s what they’re paid for, after all).
- Double spacing
I can’t really show an example, but basically it’s when you press the space bar twice or more instead of just once. Often this is just an overlooked mistake that is hard to spot. Sometimes it stems back to the days of type writers when it was common to leave two spaces between sentences because it looked better when printed. The opposite is true for online text so be sure to get into the habit of only one tap.
How to fix it: Most word processors have a button called a pilcrow which will show all your non printing characters such as spaces and paragraph breaks. Just click it and scroll through your document to check for double spacing. Easy!
- Americanised (ized?) spelling
E.g. Color instead of colour.
This only really applies to non-American writers but it’s still a common one. All throughout secondary school and sixth form (or middle and high school to Americans) I didn’t realise that my word processor was set to USA English instead of UK English and corrected words based on what spell check told me. It wasn’t until I started university that my tutors pointed out my mistake.
How to fix it: Make sure your word processor is set to the right country. Otherwise, If you are writing something specifically for an American audience, double check that you are using the correct spelling.
- To hyphenate or not to hyphenate
E.g. Start-up or start up.
This can be a hard one as it’s one of those spelling rules that can go either way in many cases.
How to fix it: As a general rule, if the word makes sense without the hyphen then leave it out. If you’re still unsure, then check dictionary.com or do a Google search. Sometimes this needs to be left to your personal judgement.
A very common problem among all writers, even best selling novelists, is when a certain word gets stuck in your brain and without realising it, you repeat it several times in the same page, even in the same paragraph.
How to fix it: Reading your work aloud when editing is a good way to spot these. Or if someone is checking your work for you, have them circle the repeated words so you can see them.
On a similar note, make sure not to repeat ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ too much, especially in dialogue heavy scenes.
- Too! Many! Exclamation! Points!
E.g. Get out! Now! Or you’ll be sorry!
All writers of fiction know that exclamation points are supposed to emphasise what has just been said, but too many of them serve the opposite effect and remove any emphasis you were going for. In fact, many consider any exclamation point to be a sign of bad writing, as they show that the writing itself hasn’t done the job and needs punctuation to do it instead.
How to fix it: Ask yourself how essential the exclamation point is. How can the sentence be re-written to give it more of an oompf? Exclamation points do work but only in the right context.
- Its or It’s
Apostrophes in general still throw many fiction writers off, but I’ve found its or it’s is maybe the most common offender. Possible because in any other context, an apostrophe is used to indicate possession, such as Katie’s velociraptor. But with its, the opposite is true.
How to fix it: Always remember that the apostrophe is there because it’s a replacement for something. It’s is a shortened version of ‘it is’ or ‘it has,’ e.g. It’s a lovely day. Its is for possession, e.g. The dog ate its food.
- Overly complex words
E.g. Saying ‘The woollen head garment’ to describe a hat.
Sadly, that example was from a real life news article. It used to be that novels were serialised in magazines or newspapers before being printed in book format and writers were paid by the word. That’s why we have doorstoppers like Les Miserables. Nowadays, creative writing teachers will tell you to cut ruthlessly as any unnecessary words or sentences will weaken your story, meaning even some of the greatest fiction writers would fail a modern creative writing class. New writers or non-English speakers often want to show off their vocabulary in their writing, which can often lead to unfortunate examples like the one above. In that journalist’s case, I’m guessing they had to stretch the ‘hat found in tree’ story to as many words as possible on a painfully slow news day.
How to fix it: Remember that your job as a writer is to tell a story, not show off your vocabulary. Choose the right word, not the fanciest. When editing, go through your work and if you find any sentences like the one above (not that you would write a phrase as awful as that one), question if it is really necessary.
- Ellipses or dash
E.g. But you said… or But you said –
If you’re unfamiliar with the exact rules for these two, it’s easy to get them mixed up. Basically, the ellipses, the three dots, is for sentences that trail off and dashes, the single line, are for when dialogue is interrupted or halted abruptly. There are some more complex rules but that’s the basis of it.
How to fix it: I find that the aesthetics make it easy to remember. The ellipses make it look like the words are drifting off into nothing while the dash indicates that the words have been stopped by something else.
These are just a few common mistakes. There are many more and all writers, even best selling fiction authors, make them at some point. Here are some ways to avoid mistakes in general:
- Print off your work, read it out loud and mark any errors.
- Ask someone you know to check your work for you. Not just someone who got a C in English (it’s amazing how many self published writers I’ve seen who have done this) but someone who has a good eye for detail and won’t spare your feelings if you’ve made a huge error.
- Use a style guide or grammar book, such as New Hart’s Rules or Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss.
- If you have the budget, hire a proofreader or editor. They will spot all these mistakes and more, leaving you more time for the actual writing.
- Join a creative writing group or class. Having other fiction authors look over your work is a good way to learn what mistakes you’re making
- Keep practising. The more you write, the easier it will become to spot these mistakes.