GrammarPhile Blog

When You Can’t See the Trees Because You Planted a Forest

Posted by Sara Richmond   Apr 11, 2024 12:00:00 PM

PRN_Blogpost_04112024updatedI used to proofread my text messages. I’d use proper punctuation, fix all autocorrect atrocities, and even insert paragraph breaks.

Those days are long past.

Now, some of my friends and closest family members get texts along the lines of “Need graspy straws. Blogget can’t find tham. Good nigbt.” with a follow-up text of “Interpret as needed. ‘Talk to text’ is a dum-dum.’” (I’ve converted the swear words for the sake of propriety.)

Why do I tell text recipients to “ignore typos” almost as often as I create a typo? Because I text a lot more often. I write a lot more often. My fingers and mouth are steady streams of words.

And when you write a lot of words—especially when you have to do so quickly—errors are inevitable.

But I have a dirty little confession (one that’s in your dingy back pocket too if you’d let anybody see it): While volume and speed are rife with error-prone possibilities, the truth is that proofing your own writing is like trying to pinpoint your character flaws while gossiping about your trainwreck of a neighbor.

It don’t work good.

When you plant a whole forest, picking your way through the trees produces blindness—to the roots, the diseases, the limbs akimbo—to all the details. And the more times you pick through those woods, the hazier the view.

If you’re a master arborist, you’ll notice a whole lot more than someone haphazardly stuffing saplings into the ground. But you can’t undo, or outdo, your biology: Your brain is made to automatically complete things (called “automaticity”), ignore them outright (when’s the last time you saw your nose), and preserve space for more important/urgent matters (what Sherlock Holmes called his “mind palace”).

I once lost a packet of replacement door hinges for two months…that was lying on my desk. I don’t mean under a pile of trash and papers. I mean resting on the wide-open plains of my standing desk, near eye-level, singing “The Hills Are Alive” on repeat. And I couldn’t see it. Until I finally did. And was thoroughly disgusted.

You know exactly what I mean.

Proofreading your own writing is like staring at a jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and saying, “Where is it? Where is the dad-blamed peanut butter!?” Then yelling at everybody for hiding it. Then having to repent in dust and ashes.

Proofreading your own writing is like driving home after a long day at work and not remembering how you got there or whether you ran all the red lights. (“Please, God, don’t let that be true.”)

Proofreading your own writing is like realizing you have a chonky mess hanging just out of your nostril after talking to 20 people in a row (and Nobody had the Decency to tell you).

I’m not saying give up entirely: You should look for the peanut butter. You should drive home from work, observing as many traffic laws as you can remember. You should check your nose for stragglers.

But don’t ever think for a single second that you don’t need help. A little pick-me-up. A logophile Kleenex, if you will. Because I am you. We are us. We all need a second or third set of eyes and a few semi-functional brains to back us up.

Good luck with those texts and emails and social media posts and love letters and all your B2B communication. We’ll be here, waiting. We won’t say “We’ll be waiting for your downfall.” That would just be rude.

(Excuse me while I have two smart people read this post to check for typos.) 

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Topics: proofreading, proofreading quality

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