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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
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
FIRST SALE FAILURE
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.
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
"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
A no-brainer. Always provide a telephone
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
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
I always ask sources if the information on their
business cards is correct.
TOO SOON THROUGH THE SHREDDER
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
MAGAZINE ON THE MOVE
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.
COMPUTER BEHAVING BADLY
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
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.
YOUR FEET WON'T SAY WHAT?
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
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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