Mistakes & Errors & Writing

Posted: July 19th, 2023 under Craft, Editing, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
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I once bought my husband a book entitled “Mistakes and Errors in Surgery” written a long time ago but fascinating in its dissection of typical surgical errors.  And I love the title.  The sound of it, the rhythm and mouth-feel of the words.  Da-DUM, da-DUM-da, da-DUM-da-da.   (Yes, some writers hear/feel word sequences like this.)

So last night was an example of mistakes and errors in writing on a computer.  I had finished (probably) the last  edits on a story called “Final Honors” which is not a sequel to the previous story with a major character but a distant echo…seven years later, nothing in between written (yet.)   Still frustrated that MS Word does not include an e-acute-accent in its “special characters” you can insert, and also does not include a u-circumflex–both of which my previous Word had in its list–I wondered if those were available from the keyboard itself in some way.  A combination of Control with a vowel, or maybe one of the function keys with something, so I skipped several pages  and tried out a few things.  That was a huge mistake.    CTRL with lower case a deleted the story and the backup with the same name and a different time-stamp, and the other backup with the same name and a different time-stamp.  Gone.  I still had the drafts with a *different* filename  but the longest of those was about half the length of the final.  OOPS.  I retrieved the longest, and quickly wrote a precis of the missing part–I couldn’t hope to replace 3000 words word for word, and trying to do so will blue memory of the plot itself…even that took hours (and the help of Beethoven, because that second half of the story had been written to three Beethoven symphonies, each offering a mood-tone that worked for that part of the story.

Along about 2 in the morning, with my brain seizing up no matter how many times I played the 3rd (Eroica) from the funeral march on, I gave up and went to bed, telling myself firmly that I needed to treat this as an opportunity to write a *better* story, rather than grieve over the Truly Stupendous Powerful Story now gone forever, and went to bed.  Woke up tired, stiff as a board, and dabbled with it today, still not ready to tackle it again.  It’s not on deadline or anything, so letting it sit and marinate isn’t all that bad.

This afternoon, still tired and in need of sleep, I started to go down for a nap when the phone rang.  And lo! it was my agent.  And lo! he wanted to talk about Horngard!    And all the story-writing I’ve done since the latest head-bang has really cleared my brain’s plot-thingie (used to be my plot daemon and I really wish he’d come back because he was fun, but I now have a modernized version, smooth and metallic, not the Scots-accented engineer of the Inchcliffe Castle…this one, so far, just extrudes plot into prose without chatting me up or scolding me.)   In writing and editing these short stories, keeping them short-story length, I’ve become able to recognize the glop that sometimes extrudes along with the plot.  Sometimes it’s infodump.  Sometimes it’s story-stuff that’s not part of *that* story but another…like the side stories I wrote while writing Paks in the first place–things that happened, that I had to write, but that weren’t main-line-express-train plot for the book.

Today, I heard from my agent.  He’d had one of his people look at Horngard I since he’d led me through revisions several times and gotten–um–over-familiar with it, would be one way of saying it.  So today I got the other guy’s opinion.  Not familiar at all with the Paksworld books, and thus a really fresh viewpoint.  My problems with both the failed Vatta book and Horngard I once Joshua read it, was that I wasn’t yet able to completely understand what he was driving at…I could not see, when re-reading the book to try to work on it…what was wrong and what might fix it.  Horngard I understood more, but still not completely.   Now, looking at James’s comments, it’s clear and I can also see that the part Joshua really wanted me to cut, which I considered necessary, IS necessary but not in its present form, and in its present form, it practically is a nice side story…it sits *beside* the book, on a siding, not the main track.

So I will start–not tonight because I’m still fighting a week’s sleep deficits–tomorrow, on Horngard I again, for what we all hope will be the final (until it sells or doesn’t and meets a real editor) cleanup.  Chapter whatsit will be gone, replaced with a stout coupling between the cars that were before and after it.   What was carried IN chapter whatsit will be compressed to the plot-relevant-only and put where it will do the most good.   I have (out of my agent’s hearing, more or less) pledged to myself to remember I’m not writing the epic fantasy equivalent of The Eustace Diamonds, in which vast amounts of wordage are expended on details of manner, dress, architecture, internal workings of this or that bar, this or that court, etc., all fascinating  to some readers (I’m one of them) , but in terms of my genre of fiction, could easily be handled in a novella.  The widow is a dishonest cheat who is illegally hanging on to her late husband’s family jewels, which jewels are part of the estate and thus entailed, she’s lied about everything.  In fact, the widow in The Eustace Diamonds has done what Trump has done with the classified documents…in her case using some unwitnessed comments of her late husband the way Trump has used the “Clinton Socks Case” (IOW, the reader is led to believe that the late husband did NOT tell her they were hers to do with as she pleased but lied about her justification, just as Trump has lied about the Presidential Records Act and the “Clinton Socks Case.”  At any rate, the train of Horngard needs to stay on the main track and plow ahead through snow and flood and dubious bridges and all that.   No detours.  No stops to admire the view, or the wildflowers, or wander off to discover the weirdities in Guild League regulations compared to the Code of Gird.  That’s what side stories and data on the site are for.  CHARGE!


  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — July 20, 2023 @ 5:30 am


    And this is why I write that an author does indeed work quite hard to produce a book – especially a good book.

    Stay cool and stay sane.

    From up here in very warm and very wet New Hampshire.

  • Comment by Annabel Smyth — July 20, 2023 @ 9:30 am


    I’m so glad you’ve got some sense from your agent, or rather, from their people.

    Rotten about your story, though; for future reference, e acute (é) can be found in any Windows app (that you type into!), by pressing Alt Gr (the Alt key on the right hand side of the space bar) and the lower- or upper-case e at the same time. At least, it does in the UK keyboard layout – it occurs to me that the US keyboard layout might be different, as indeed it might be if you use Apple’s IoS rather than Windows.

    Windows itself has what it calls a “character map”, and I expect Apple has an equivalent. To access it, press the Windows key and enter it in the search box. I keep mine attached to the taskbar at the bottom as it’s so convenient. You just click on the character you want (eg û), then press “Select” and then “Copy”, which options are obvious on the app. Also, if you have a numeric keyboard (I don’t), you can use it by pressing ALT and the 4-digit code the character map throws up – once you know the code, you can use it without opening the character map.

  • Comment by Gareth — July 21, 2023 @ 8:25 am


    Others have probably already explained it but Ctrl A means All – select ALL the whole document, then ANY character replaces the selected area (ie deletes the entire document and replaces with the newly typed character. However Ctrl Z (undo) will undo the change and return the document.

    I frequently want to do something unmentionable to whoever designed a keyboard with CTRL next to shift but undo it really helpful.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 22, 2023 @ 7:57 pm


    Gareth, THAHK YOU for the undo for Ctrl A. And yes, my keyboard has CTRL right under Shift, so there’s that. Getting the circumflex (or caret, as it’s now apparently called) over the u turned out to be just a bit trickier than the acute accent over the e, but I’ve sortakina mastered them. Do you have a tricky fix for getting rid of smart quotes in Windows 11 and the current Word? I think publishers still prefer the old vertical ones. There was an easy fix back around Win 7 and whatever that Word was, but I haven’t found it in this edition.

  • Comment by Eowyn — July 24, 2023 @ 10:37 am


    From a help site in Word – note, the file -> options, the one you need to select is at the VERY bottom.

    As you type text, Word automatically changes straight quotation marks ( ‘ or ” ) to curly quotation marks (also known as “smart quotes” or typographer’s quotes). And now with your feedback we have improved smart quotes feature. Any quote following an em dash(–) is now formatted as an open quote (rather than closed quote).

    You can turn this feature on or off. To disable smart quotes,

    1.On the File tab, click Options.

    2.Click Proofing, and then click AutoCorrect Options.

    3.In the AutoCorrect dialog box, do the following:

    ◾Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab, and under Replace as you type, select or clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box.

    ◾Click the AutoFormat tab, and under Replace, select or clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box.

    4.Click OK.

  • Comment by Eowyn — July 24, 2023 @ 10:38 am


    Woo hoo for Horngard I edits making sense.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 24, 2023 @ 5:58 pm


    It’s so nice when that happens… I’ve removed several thousand words of “This isn’t part of the plot, really” to turn into a side story when I have time. Commenter was right: the real plot-train was sitting there at the station the car with the “not part of the plot” subplot unloaded a theatrical company–who climbed up onto the platform and performed a much smaller play, and then went back aboard the main train…and the main train continued its journey. Offloading of stuff like that is supposed to be done secretly in the middle of the night, while the passengers are sleeping, including the theatrical company, who wake on the platform the next day with new tickets on a “local” in hand.

    So that’s done. However, now that I look at it again, the entire first chapter is a….[redacted] mess. It would make an instructive lesson in a writing class, now that I’ve thought my way through it. I’ve seen its like in some books and a lot of unpublished writing in workshops, and how I missed it so long in this one is…something I don’t want to contemplate, really. More on this later. Almost horse-feeding time and I should never have had that much guacamole when I’m not eating it regularly…

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 24, 2023 @ 6:00 pm


    Thank you. I’ll try to clean the slants out of the Horngard text tonight. This is a huge help.

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