You’ve got to be a lot of things when you’re a writer.
Not only do you need to craft characters and worlds from nothing, bring together a cohesive story, and take hundreds of random words and arrange them into sentences that make sense, you also need to check those sentences for mistakes.
But when you’ve been working on a WIP for a long time, writing and re-writing the same sentences, it makes you immune to typos. Suddenly they aren’t just wrong keystrokes or the
write right word with the wrong spelling—they’re tricksters—convincing your eyes that what they’re reading is what your brain expects.
Typos are relying on the fact you know your words so well after multiple drafts they can hide in your perfect paragraphs, just waiting to be spotted by your dream agent in your submission package (that’ll show you for deleting their friends during editing pass 12!).
So what do you do to fight back against these gremlins? You turn yourself into a typo hunter.
How To Be An Expert Typo Hunter
Read Out Loud
Just as reading out loud will help you to discover sentences that need work, it will also help you find any typos.
Have It Read Aloud To You
Because you’re still the person who has read the words a million times and the typos know that is your weakness, have someone else, or a program, read the words to you. Hearing them back from another party will definitely expose those little mistakes.
Get Yourself Some Fresh Eyes
And by that, I mean give it to someone else to read. Preferably it should be someone who has never read the MS before. That way everything is new and those tiny typos will stand out.
Read It Backwards
Reading your MS is the easiest way to pick up typos. But because they rely on your brain to sort the words into their familiar order, it can be just as easy to miss the misspellings. If you read your MS backward, starting from the last chapter and reading your way to the first, you’ll trick the part of your brain which knows the order the words are supposed to be in and trap those typos.
Work In Sections
Sometimes even just the idea of having to read 80,000 words yet again is enough for your brain to count itself out before you even start. If you want its help to track down those typos, break the task into sections. Read just one page and then take a break. Go scene-by-scene, or chapter-by-chapter, working in small sections, focusing on the task at hand and not the 50,000 other words you’ve still got to check.
One trick I like to use, which also works for editing, is to copy 500 words of your MS into a different program or document, read/check that, and then move onto the next 500 words. It might seem like a slow way to work, but it works for me.
Go Out On A High(light)
If you’ve worked through every other tip and are still finding typos, or you want to be as thorough as possible, the final extreme typo hunting trick requires color.
Get your hands on a colored highlighter, print out your MS, and as you read, highlight every word. That’s right. Every. Single. Word.
This kind of pass isn’t about reading your story (which at this point you should be reciting from memory), it’s about concentrating on each individual word and making sure it’s correct. If a typo gets past this check, they are simply a part of you now and you should adjust your life accordingly.
In all seriousness, typos in your MS is not the be all and end all of your writing career. Find what you can, fix what you can. Read your words out loud, get someone else to read them, read the MS backward, work in sections, and color code those sentences. Anything to stop those typos from winning. And if there’s one (or five) in your submitted MS or published story, an agent, publisher or reader won’t dismiss your whole book because of it. They understand just as much as you do what schemers those typos are.
— K.M. Allan