Typos, and why they’re not always the end of the world

I have a confession to make: sometimes I make typos. In fact, sometimes they’re not even typos. Sometimes – and this will really shock you – sometimes they’re actual spelling errors.

I know, I know: a professional writer who sometimes makes mistakes. I should resign right this very second and go and get a job that doesn’t require me to write at all, ever: especially given that I actually have a website about writing. I’m not going to, though, because here’s the thing: I don’t think minor typos are that big a deal. There, I said it. I will let you take a moment to pick yourself back up off the floor here…

Still with me? OK, let me clarify: I’m not saying it’s OK to make mistakes, and that we shouldn’t bother about them. Not at all. On the contrary, I think anyone who makes a living from writing should make an effort to ensure their writing is as clear, and as error-free as possible. Absolutely.

What I am saying, though, is that when the odd, minor typo creeps in, I don’t think it’s the end of the world. I mean, we’ve all done it, haven’t we? To err is human, after all, and I can’t think of anyone – not a single person – who has never in their life hit the wrong key on a keyboard and failed to notice it.

And yes, I know that’s what proofreading is for. But as most writers will tell you, when you’ve written something yourself, it can be hard to spot the mistakes in it. You see what you THINK is there, and sometimes errors go undetected. Or undetected by you, anyway. Here’s one of the big drawbacks of writing online, you see: for every typo you ever make, there will be at least five people ready to jump on it and crow over it. The line, “You call yourself a professional writer, but…” will be used at least once. It’s not a good scene, trust me.

Undoubtedly, some of these people are genuinely trying to be helpful. You should be grateful to these people. They’re the ones who politely tell us when we’ve typed something wrong (and tell us by email, too, rather than pointing out the mistake in public and drawing further attention to it), and allow us to correct it without trying to make us feel like idiots for making it in the first place.

Then there are the rest.

These are the people who take a disproportionate amount of delight in every tiny typo. These people DO think typing errors are the end of the world, and they have made it their mission in life to point them out. I’m not talking about major errors, either: the ones that have somehow passed through an entire publishing process involving numerous professional editors and proofreaders, and yet have still somehow managed to end up printed in giant letters, on posters or adverts, or other places of maximum exposure. Hell, I’ve pointed out those kind of mistakes myself.

No, I’m talking about the little mistakes. The ones that are so obviously typos that they can’t possibly be mistaken for anything other than a slip of the finger. The ones that don’t alter the meaning of the text, don’t make it any harder to read, and don’t really have any importance other than to illustrate the fact that the author is, indeed, a human being, and that human beings sometimes make mistakes.

Those are the kind of typos I don’t think are the end of the world.

Sure, if there are lots of them in a single piece of writing, or if they’re very distracting, making it hard to focus on what the writer is trying to say, that’s a problem. If they’re consistent mistakes, which crop up time and time again, that’s a problem too. If they’re present in a super-important document, like your CV, for instance, or that email you’re sending a prospective employer, boasting about what a great writer you are? Houston, we have a problem. And if they’re written in 20 foot letters, and plastered onto the side of a building, that’s a pretty big problem, and I hope it never happens to me.

So no, I’m not defending typos, or saying we should all just be as slapdash as we like, and not care about our errors, because clearly that would be a Very Bad Thing indeed.

But if you’re the kind of person who jumps on every tiny little mistake a writer makes, crowing unpleasantly over it and generally behaving as if the world just ended, I’m asking you to maybe cut us some slack, here.

Let he who has never made a typo cast the first stone, I say.

Everyone else should just be glad it’s not their typo…


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