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With the "write, don't edit" rule in mind, how should one handle mistyping?

I usually stop or go back to fix the error as soon as I spot it, but often I feel this breaks the flow of writing.

Should one keep going, or stop to correct? I'm afraid I might miss some errors if I don't. And the thought of going back to fix everything in the end seems overwhelming.

Why should I prefer one over the other?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It sounds like you are struggling between two possiblities:

  1. Fixing typos but having your concentration on the forward movement of your writing broken, or
  2. Moving on but facing a daunting task of catching all of your errors during editing and re-writing.

Personally I would be driven crazy by not fixing a mistake I knew was there, and that would break my concentration far worse than going back, re-typing a word, and moving on. You may be totally different, however.

Since you have already tried fixing typos, try working on a segment for about 3/4 of your normal writing time without fixing typos. Then use the last quarter of your time to go back and fix typos - read the work out loud to yourself, read backwards, do whatever you need to do so that the brain's automatic comprehension features don't kick in and keep you from spotting errors. See if this way of working is better for you than fixing typos.

You may want to try both ways of working more than once. As you work you might come up with a hybrid approach. Perhaps you want to write short segments and then fix all the typos in them while deciding what to write next. Perhaps you want to figure in some time spent fixing basic typos. Perhaps you want to leave it all for your first round of editing, or even your last.

Whatever you do, make sure it keeps you writing.

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2  
+1 for 'make sure it keeps you writing'! Whatever you do, keep your rhythm. I find it's much easier for me to do when I turn off the stupid 'red-squiggle' underline in the word processor...when I am writing I don't want to see all the things that the computer thinks might be wrong. I'll often run a spell-check on a day's work though for the last half hour or so...makes it so things are put away clean. –  atroon Jan 12 '11 at 18:24

The rule I vaguely stick to is that if I actually spot a typo while writing, I'll fix it. Otherwise, I'll (hopefully, but in practice it seems not) spot the typo when re-reading whatever I wrote (be it after the next typing break, the next day or whenever). Then, when I have a sufficiently-substantial chunk, I run a spell-checker (with the ability to use a per-work dictionary, so I can insert unusual work-specific spellings (names, mostly) there).

If you feel that fixing typos as you go impacts your flow, I'd suggest you don't fix typos as you go, as "flow" usually results in more words written per time unit and you'd probably still need to spell-check afterwards, no matter if you fix as you go or not.

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I fix as I type if I notice them. I've also heard that it's helpful to read the manuscript outloud when you're coming down to the final edit, because that will help catch the vast majority of spelling mistakes.

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Look, like most of these things, the answer is "what works for you". Personally, I have to keep pushing on -- if I look back, my Inner Critic starts asking for other changes, and as Satchel Paige said "never look back; something might be gaining on you."

On the other hand, I know people who practice the shitabrick method, and have to get each paragraph exactly right before they can go on.

So, how about this: try some freewriting -- write as fast as you can, ignoring errors and all, and see if you get into that nice warm-bath feeling of "flow". If so, forget the spelling, that's why God made spell correct.

If, after you give it some time, it doesn't work, then try fixing errors as you see them.

There's no one looking over your shoulder saying "you're not right the Correct Way", except possibly you.

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Well, I've already answered this question here.

But again, tell me, if you never had this scenario:
You have this sentence in your mind:
"I have always stood up at 4 o'clock after starting my job at the bakery."

You start typing:
"I have alwas stoo..." darn, typo! It's "always" not "alwas". Hit the left cursor key till you are at the right position, hit "y", hit "end" and ... what did I want to write? Damn! I forgot. A second ago I still knew it. What the hell did I want to write? "I stood up to begin early in the bakery" No, no, it was different. F*cking shit!

If you never had this scenario, go on, correcting as soon as you see it. If you have it had only once, you should see, that this is a dooming approach. If you do not want to forget, what is in your mind, then write, do not edit!

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I used to be a big fan of just write it out and spell check later, the problem is that 'later' turned out to be a few months down the line when I'm getting ready to edit a story. Suddenly spell checking became a large time investment just so I could get into editing the story proper. It got in the way of getting the job done.

When I started writing in Word (I used to be 100% text) I started taking time to go back and fix my errors soon after I made them. It was a bit of a break in my flow at first, but it had an interesting side effect, I started improving my spelling. So now I make significantly fewer errors in my spelling and have to go break my flow far less often to fix them.

So, I guess the short answer is, yes I think it's worth fixing your errors as you go.

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You should totally wait to correct them until the end. Higher-order concerns, right-brain thinking, and creativity run best without left-brain concern barriers. I think you'll get better content, albeit with errors you have to fix later (unavoidable), by not stopping until you've got the main bits hashed out.

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Another suggestion: Today, you write for an hour, finish, close the document, walk away.

Tomorrow, the first thing you do is take 15 minutes to re-read what you wrote, fix typos, correct grammar, and make edits. By the time you're done straightening up, you should be back in the flow of the story, and you can write for another session. This also gives you the perspective of a day's distance from your work, which makes it easier to "kill your darlings."

I become hysterical about typos and could not proceed without fixing them. But, as others have noted, this issue is very individual.

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