You know when you hear a phrase or music lyric the wrong way and it sometimes takes you years to figure out that you got it wrong? For me, one particularly idiotic example of this was the phrase WINDCHILL FACTOR. As a kid, I always thought it was WINDSHIELD FACTOR. I used to think the colder temperature was somehow measured by how cold it is on a car’s windshield…because clearly it would be a colder temp on the windshield of a moving car than a standstill temp. Right? It’s not that farfetched. So I thought somewhere someone had this thermometer pasted to their moving car and they called in the windshield temp to the local weather stations…just so we would, you know, know how cold it was were we to decide to travel on the hood of our car that day. Makes sense.
This is going to be related to writing. I promise you.
I figured out the Windshield thing pretty quickly. It only took me a few years. Sooner or later one opens their mouths in the wrong company and someone is going to call one out on their awesomely fantastic stupidity. I was slightly humiliated when corrected about the windchill thing, but I learned. I grew.
Fast-forward to November 1984. The release of HATEFUL OF HOLLOW by THE SMITHS! Every single song on that album blew my mind so completely. It was perfection. But do you see what I did there? I called it HATEFUL OF HOLLOW. Actually, I called that album HATEFUL OF HOLLOW for the better part of 30 years. I had a poster of the album cover in my room all through the mid 80s. I listened to the album obsessively, so the sleeve and album cover were always laying around. And yet, after processing the title incorrectly that first time, I did it every single time I looked at it. Now, I like to think I’m not an idiot. But the evidence weighs solidly against me here.
For those who don’t yet know what I’m talking about, THE SMITH’s album was actually called:
HATFUL OF HOLLOW
Do you see my error? Exhibit A from the evidence of stupidity file:
There it is. Plain as day. HATFUL. It was only in recent years that I noticed my error for the first time. And I can’t tell you how jarring it was to realize I had it wrong for SO MANY YEARS. Hateful of Hollow just made pure and unadulterated absolute sense to me. It meant something. When I first realized my error, I spent the better part of a day contemplating the meaning of the ‘new’ title. Hatful of Hollow? What the hell? That doesn’t even mean anything. It has to be wrong. Somebody must be playing this crazy trick on me. Of course I can understand the meaning behind HATEFUL OF HOLLOW. Anyone would be hateful of hollow. Hollow is our enemy. It is sadness. Ergo, we hate sadness. But this hatful crap? What the hell?
Now let’s zero in on what this means to writers, shall we?
We don’t always see our own glaring errors. If you meant to write something a certain way, chances are you will read it the way you meant it to be. But often, we can slip in a wrong word or phrase without realizing we did so. You can go through your manuscript a hundred times, thinking you’re editing out every little error along the way. In actual fact, your ‘meant-to-write’ phrase or word keeps appearing in place of the actual error on the page. Here’s an example:
Your intended sentence: I took the potatoes out from under the cupboard.
What you actually wrote: I took the potatoes out for under the cupboard.
Unless you’re extremely diligent, you could read that sentence ten times and not see the error…because your mind is correcting it. I guess essentially this means you’re glossing over it. But this is a real issue.
It’s smart to edit your own work. Don’t get me wrong. You should ALWAYS edit your own work. But getting a second set of eyes on the manuscript is ALWAYS a smart idea. Someone else will catch the little things that make you appear sloppy if they’re not caught.
I’m not saying everyone should PAY for editing services. In fact, unless you are going with SELF PUBLISHING, I would suggest you NEVER PAY FOR EDITING SERVICES. You edit your manuscript to the best of your ability and then you have a friend/fellow-writer read it through for those glaring errors you’re always going to gloss over. If you’re submitting to an agent or a publisher, they are going to work with you on the manuscript. There is no need to spend precious money on an editing service. On the other side of the coin, I think one should always get their manuscript professionally edited if they are going the self-publishing route. You want to present the reading public with the most polished work possible.
Anyway, the moral of this story is, I suppose, to pay attention. I didn’t write the title of that Smith’s album, so it doesn’t really apply here. I just read it incorrectly for decades. But it is a good example of how our minds sometimes work against us by repeatedly replacing what we thought we read/wrote with what’s actually on the page. PAY ATTENTION! And have a reader in place! We should all have our work checked by at least one other person before we send it out into the world. It’s a cliche because it’s true…YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANGE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION! (see what I did there?!)