Error patterns: All writers have them. Some struggle, with comma usage rules, sprinkling commas, in their prose, like farmers, throwing seeds, on, a, freshly, plowed, field. Others fear commas so they allow their sentences to pile up on one another like cars on crowded busy freeways in California at rush hour causing the reader to mentally crash before reaching the end of the sentence. (Phew.)
Still Others think that Every word should Be capitalized at Will, making the reader wonder what was so important about “every” and who “Will” is. And oh, the error pattern of the misspeller, who doesn’t understand using “you’re” when he means “your” can make some reading his mistake physically hurt in their soul
I teach academic writing in college, and much of my time is spent helping students identify and then fix their own personal error patterns in writing. I assure them that they are not alone, that almost everyone has a writing “bugaboo” he or she struggles with, and that the writing problem one person struggles with may not be the same as someone else’s. The key is to follow Alcoholics Anonymous’s first rule: Admit you have a problem. Once you get that out of the way, it’s simply a matter of learning what the problem is, how to fix it, and then being diligent in not making that mistake again. I have all kinds of tips and tricks to help my students with their various writing problems, and when they use these tricks, I watch their error patterns disappear. It’s gratifying to see.
Like my students, I have my own personal error pattern. My brain moves faster than my fingers, and as such, I have problem with forgetting put in words. (Oh, sorry–I meant that I have a problem with forgetting to put in words.) I can read a document over and over and think I’ve fixed every missing word problem, then the minute I hit “submit,” my eyes clear and I see allll my mistakes and spend the rest of the day in shame and despair, feeling like a fraud.
To combat my error issue, I used to read every piece of writing aloud, following the words with my finger as I did. It was a tedious process, but it was mainly effective. I’d resigned myself to this tortured, slow way of revision, until recently I discovered a feature on Microsoft Word that rocked my editing world. I felt like Dorothy and her pals in The Wizard of Oz when they were told that their brains, heart, courage, and way home had been with them all along.
My wonderful, commonplace tool is the “speak aloud” function in MS Word. I just had to realize it existed and enable it.
So allow me to say: I LOVE THIS FREAKING FEATURE! I revised my entire novel manuscript using the speak function, and though I’d revised it six times AND had friends adept in English read it over for me, I now caught several words I (and they) had missed. And not only did I notice my error-pattern-errors, listening to that flat robot voice read my book aloud allowed me to hear (and fix) some repetition, “flow,” and confusing structure issues. Even cooler: Sometimes while listening to the robot read my book to me, I’d forget I’d written the words and think, “Wow, that was a good phrase! Wow, that is an exciting scene! Wow, I really like that character!” Then I’d remember, grin, pat myself on the back, and say, “YOU wrote that good phrase, lovely character, and exciting scene, you author, you!”
(Words of affirmation are my “love language.” Sometimes I have to remember it’s okay to love myself.)
Maybe I’m the only person in the world who didn’t know about this excellent tool, but in case I’m not, I highly recommend it. For me, it works better to listen to my writing a paragraph at a time while I read along and pause to fix errors. This stops me from becoming overwhelmed or zoning out. When I revised my book this way, I’d listen to a few pages in a sitting several times a day, with a brain-break in between. This process took about two weeks (my book is currently around 93,000 words), and when I was done, I was really pleased with the results. Now I use the feature for everything—important emails, bios, comments on student writings, and yes, blog posts. I write everything in Word, hit the “speak aloud” button at the top of the page, listen and fix, CTRL-A, CTRL-C (if not a document), and save/send/submit.
Ain’t technology (sometimes) grand?