June 22, 2011
Making Lemonade: Embracing the Typo By Jill Pertler
Typos happen. I make every effort to prevent them, but I can't change the fact that I am human, making me imperfect and prone to the occasional (however seldom) typo. Cringe.
My first advice is to avoid typos whenever you can. Proof everything you write and then proof it one more time. Be diligent and meticulous in the battle. I try to be.
Despite my best efforts, however, sometimes typos creep into my copy. A well-intentioned "then" typed as "than" is left undetected by spell check as well as my ever eager eyes and a typo is born.
An error in the body of an article or column is never good news. I can only think of one thing more disastrous: a typo in a query. Can you imagine?
It happened to me. And it gets even worse. My query didn't go out to one editor. It went out to 20. I had a whole bushel of lemons in my cart.
I write a syndicated newspaper column and was in the process of querying newspaper editors. I composed a compact and concise email letter outlining the history of the column and my writing background, including my college degree. I read, re-read and re-re-read the email before pressing "send."
Shortly afterward, an astute editor sent a curt reply saying he wouldn't work with a columnist who didn't know how to spell college. When I reviewed my email, I saw, to my horror, that I'd gone to collage, not college. It was what I call a cringe moment, and I was the one cringing.
I wanted nothing more than to email that editor and try to make him understand the overall quality of my work. I wanted him to know about my attention to detail and the multiple steps I take to provide perfect copy.
But I knew it would come across as groveling and I didn't want to be pathetic. I knew I should put the incident behind me, but I couldn't forget about the one editor who believed I didn't know how to spell college.
So I decided to make lemonade.
In other words, I opted to embrace the situation and create something positive from it. I made the error the topic of my weekly syndicated column. I wrote about cringe moments.
We've all experienced them, and I thought readers could relate. I get paid for my column, so in essence, I was getting paid for the fact that I'd committed a typo.
Wait though, because it gets even better. I sent the column to the editor who'd questioned my spelling abilities. (I read this second email to him a million times before pressing the send button.)
Imagine my surprise (and trepidation) later that day when I received a reply from him. I was afraid to open it. Terrified would be a more accurate description.
I took a deep breath, clicked on the email and smiled; my lemonade was getting sweeter by the moment. The editor said he enjoyed the article and thanked me for sending it. He said that if it weren't for space issues, he'd like to publish the column.
I'd made a less-than-ideal first impression with this editor, but somehow I'd created a second chance to make a first impression. I felt vindicated. It was a high-five kind of moment and I slapped my hands together over my head. (I was alone at the time.)
I do not advocate for typos or any writing errors. Avoid them like you avoid mosquitoes and deer ticks. Still, if you are out in the proverbial writing woods you're going to encounter bloodsuckers as well as the occasional slip of the finger on the keyboard. When you do, feel free to cringe. And then, think about how you might turn the situation around.
Perhaps you can make a joke or create comedy from your error. Like me, you could find a creative way to write about it. Maybe it's a chance for you to be simply human. At the very least, you'll have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of proofing your words - as well as the art and value of making lemonade.
Jill Pertler has touched people's hearts and funny bones with her well-loved column, Slices of Life, since 2002. It currently appears in over 110 newspapers in 15 states, as well as on Facebook at Slices of Life. (Go ahead, be a fan!) Her book "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" is available online through BookLocker.com, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit her website at: http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/