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Friday, April 25, 2008

Peer, Schmeer. The Gremlins Will Get You One Time Or Another

This week I hope to start a conversation on how easy it is to make a mistake you don't see in your own material -- even if you are a great editor of others' material. It includes a word that is sometimes confused, though most people certainly do know the difference between the spelling of the two. It's just that those gremlins that The Frugal Editor is making famous get at us. Maybe we're typing too fast or maybe our brains are in another zone or... but the gremlins will get us--both you and me.

I try to take a poetry class once a year. (Because I'm an instructor, UCLA Extension Writers' Program gives me one class a year at no charge. It's one of the perks they offer and a great way for them to be sure that their instructors continue to get educated -- and at least one of us (me) need it. I especially like the poetry classes taught by Suzanne Lummis.

But I digress. So I finished the first draft of my poem. Checked it (well, OK, checked it perfunctorily). Typed up copies so everyone in class would have a critique copy. Stuck the copies into my tote marked "Poetry," and took off for class. Couldn't be late!

When it was my turn to share my poem for critique, I passed out the copies and began to read. There (in the title!) was the word "peer." I meant "pier."

"Oh, gawd," I said. "Make that "pier, p-i-e-r."

And here is the most important part. Everyone just nodded and chortled. It can happen to anyone. It can happen to editors, to teachers, to university instructors, to plain-old-everyday writers. The gremlins can hit at any time for any reason.

I thought maybe you'd like to see the poem. Here it is (with the spelling right!):

Death by Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier

From her seat in the gondola. A woman
who might be me, watches roller

bladers with supple bones and toddlers with careless
balloons Far, far down on the pier. She opens

the doors -- mini saloon doors of purple -- or
she crawls over acrylic barriers. Either way

she hesitates a moment. The lurch
of the wheel as it stops at the top finishes

the job. No scream. Even the plane floating
a campaign trail of plastic behind it, silent. Soundless

waves, too, that far up. She floats as if posing
for her close-up, delicate fingers, poised toes,

her red sunhat a Frisbee against
sky of pulled taffy clouds on blue.

Sea like scallops of Alençon lace below,
sand stretched away toward the Palisades,

the smell of sugary churros her last sensation.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson

By the way. I didn't flunk. (-:

The lesson here, Aesop fashion, is that because the gremlins are always at work, people will make mistakes. It will happen to you and it will happen to me. Best not get critical and point fingers. Your day is nigh!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits and consults on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success on Amazon. Learn more about her other authors' aids at


Anonymous said...

Those gremlins are active in every genre...from tech writing to humor to humorless to literary. I think it's due to sunspots and bad moons. The only way to avoid the lil suckers is to have someone ELSE...someone who isn't already in love with your words, take a look. Of course, even then, something can be missed..the gremlins are sneaky too. With our last book, I edited it, Pat edited it, our editor edited it...even our layout person edited it. Should be clean as a whistle, eh? Well, I guess whistles aren't that clean...I opened first book in first box to some random page and found an error in the first paragraph I read. YIKES!


Joyce Faulkner

Nicole said...

Ah yes, I love to hand out something to my students with a typo. Ok, so I hate it, obviously, but they get to laugh at me, and I at myself, and then they know being human happens to everyone. Thanks for sharing this! :)

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