Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeing What Isn't There: Why Everyone Needs an Editor

From time to time, I go back to my old food blog posts in the archives and reread them just for the heck of it. Much to my dismay, I always -- always -- find stupid mistakes: grammatical errors, typographical errors, missing words, duplications, etc. And while it doesn't surprise me for I think someone who's stupid enough to compose all of her posts online (as opposed to in, say, Microsoft Word) deserves every bad thing that comes her way, it still amazes me how multiple readings haven't seemed to prevent some of these stupid errors.

Some of the mistakes are awkwardly-crafted sentences that sounded right to me at the time of writing, but become obviously flawed when I see them again with increased knowledge of English. These errors are more forgivable in my book. English is my second language and regardless of how many years I've been using it, it will never roll off my tongue or keyboard naturally. The typographical, haplographical, and dittographical errors, on the other hand, are harder to forgive for they're so preventable.

I'm not a careless person. If anything, I've always been cautious about everything -- perhaps a little too much. And despite evidence to the contrary, I read and reread my posts several times before I hit the "publish now" button.

How do I explain the stupidity?

I see things that aren't there. My mind dictates what I see. My eyeballs see one thing and label it according to what they see, then my mind comes along, wags its right index finger (my mind is right-handed), and says, "Nuh-uh." My wimpy eyeballs then shut up and allow my dictatorial mind to call the shot.

One of the articles that I've had the most fun writing: Thai Coconut Bread Dip and Ratio Cooking has been made public since February 4th, 2010, but not until yesterday, April 22nd, 2010, did I come to see that I had misspelled the word "Francophilia." For almost two months, the word was spelled Franchophilia. For more than two months, the word looked exactly right to me. For more than two months of reading and rereading that article, I managed to miss this typo every single time. I even managed to ignore the red squiggly line underneath misspelled words as I composed and edited the article online. As a Francophile, I can forgive myself. As a human being who should know better, I feel undeserving of forgiveness. While my eyes see the undeniable flaws, my mind corrects and justifies them thereby causing my eyes to be blind to something that is obvious to everyone else.

And that's just one example. There are many, many more.

The other type of error that I have committed most frequently is leaving out words. For some reason, I seem to do that a lot. I would read and reread an article several times, yet every time when it comes to the places where words are left out, my mind automatically supplies what's missing. Such a weird phenomenon. My eyes see that something isn't there that should be there, but the mind is so convinced of its presence that its absence doesn't even register. I do that a lot.

That's why when it comes to writing, every writer needs an editor. We need someone to look with a fresh eye at what we have written and read to ourselves over and over. After having been involved in the process of writing something for so long, even the best of us loses the ability to see things objectively. Only an outsider can intervene and rescue us from that sad state of denial and self-deception. (Sometimes, that outsider is ourselves days, weeks, months, years later seeing the flaws in retrospect.)

It's the same kind of denial and self-deception that happens in other areas of life as well. Your eyes see and recognize a serious, deal-breaker of a flaw. Yet, your mind, not wanting to accept that, labels it differently. Your eyes detect the absence of something. Yet, your mind, wanting so much to see what it wants or hopes to see, doesn't see the missing part. In the face of ample evidence indicating otherwise, everything is fine.

Don't we all do that sometimes -- some of us more often than others? Looking past the flies and seeing a pile of unchi as a mound of luscious chocolate mousse?