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Oops...My Mistake, Most Of The Time
by Patricia Misiuk

Edward John Phelps, founder of the American Bar Association, said, "The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything."

Hmm. I've certainly had my share of egg-on-my-face moments during my writing career but I console myself with insights from English historian James Anthony Froude who said, "Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes."

Despite grammar crutches such as spell check (for my mental block about that "i" before "e" rule), convoluted and out-of-context sentences still manage to elude electronic censors. Domino-effect circumstances caused by selective hearing, harried editors who push proofreading duties to the proverbial back burner, and rejections taken personally triggered additional uh-oh errors that slipped onto the printed page.

Sound familiar? I'm in a been-there, done-that mode. Listed are some memorable bloopers followed by hindsight shoulda/coulda wisdom.


Like oil and vinegar, sending out manuscripts and orchestrating a cross-country move do not blend well. In my haste, I mailed a piece to a trade publication and included my new address as well as the de rigueur SASE. All bases covered, I mused as I loaded the U-Haul. Wrong.


Not yet settled at the new address, I groped my way through the maze of unpacked boxes to answer the phone. Good news. The magazine wanted my article about moonlighting as a cashier during the holidays. The pay- $400- was the icing on the cake. My ego trip, however, was short-lived.

"If you want to be a writer," the editor warned, "be sure to include your phone number. It took ages to find a listing for you."


A no-brainer. Always provide a telephone number.


Sometimes a lot of trouble. While trying to grasp the concepts of load-bearing walls and joist placement for a piece on computer-aided design, I asked a source to spell his name. He mumbled a sequence of letters. When he saw my "duh" expression, he handed me his business card. Let's just say I blew it big time but to this day, I maintain my innocence. I misspelled his name because, are you ready, it was incorrect on his business card.


I always ask sources if the information on their business cards is correct.


I dangled irresistible bait in a query geared to an on-the-cheap travel publication. Yes, they were interested in my migrant work experiences. I fine-tuned the article and mailed it. Within a week, an impersonal checklist rejection letter arrived. With a how-dare-they attitude, I cut off my nose, figuratively speaking, to spite my face. I plugged in my paper shredder and my only copy of the article became ticker tape.


Don't take rejection personally. Set the piece aside in a "cool down" file. When I trawled the freelance market for another nibble, I had to begin at square one. P.S. This time, I sold the piece.


I dashed off a seasonal article to a freelance-friendly pet magazine listed in a publication targeted at writers. When I didn't hear from them, I thought, "No news is good news." Not exactly. Nearly a year later, a response did arrive. The magazine's staff had moved from the southwest to Michigan. Oh, the editor had died a year before. Because my article was crisscrossing the country, the delay bumped my article's publication to the following year.


A phone call to verify masthead information could have padded my bank account 12 months earlier.


During the Y2K hype, I diligently stored my text files on disk. After the ho-hum nonevent, I lapsed into the hard drive to disk practice less frequently. Then my mean, lean word machine crashed. All files sucked into a cyber black hole. Fortunately, I had e-mailed my latest column to a friend. He kindly forwarded it electronically, enabling me to meet my deadline.


When tempted not to store a file on disk, utter the mantra," My computer can crash at any time." As extra insurance, e-mail the file to a friend and hope his computer doesn't take a nose dive.


Selective hearing coupled with the need for a unique quotation sent me into murky waters several years ago. I wrote a weekly column showcasing new subdivisions. Along with a laundry list of amenities, prices and directions, I included a sales pitch geared to potential residents. One sales representative summed up his lakeside subdivision by saying, "You can swim here and your feet will never say 'yuck.'" I ignored his postscript, "Forget I said that." Not only did I include his words in the column but the copy editor used them in the headline. Double whammy.


I complimented my source by saying his descriptive words captured the essence of the community. He acquiesced but slips of the tongue and other foot-in-mouth statements are best left out of print.

Other bloopers too numerous to list- misspellings, dangling participles, misplaced clauses- add to my embarrassment and validate my fallibility. On the other hand, I rejoice that my errors, when compared to output and sales, have dwindled, thanks to constant vigilance, proofreading and a friend I call "grammar guru."

As we write, keep in mind the words of Phelps and Froude. Let us improve in our craft by acknowledging and correcting our misteaks (oops...mistakes) and allowing them to teach us how to become prolific and accurate wordsmiths.

© Copyright 2001, Patricia Misiuk

Patricia Misiuk could have been the sole interviewee for Studs Terkel's "Working." Her jobs have ranged from migrant work in New Zealand to the replenishment of sanitary products in the "Big Apple's" restrooms. When she grows up (she is 61) she wants to be a columnist. She still works at "McJobs" but "writing is what she does."

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