The Forgiving Eye

by Steve Muir

Sounds benevolent, doesn’t it? After all, forgiveness is a great virtue, right? In this case, unfortunately, wrong. The Forgiving Eye is the name I’ve given to a particular phenomenon that afflicts me – and I’m sure, most authors – when it comes to reviewing their own writing. Content is not the problem although I’m sure most of us suffer a certain level of insecurity as we peruse our latest offering.

“Is this any good?” we ask ourselves. “Should I restructure this sentence or make that a new paragraph?” Let’s be honest, if we always gave in to those concerns, our books would never be completed. In the end though, we do finish, we do either physically or spiritually type “THE END”, sit back, and offer a heartfelt prayer of thanks. We then wait anxiously for either the welcome approval of others or – at the very worst – some constructive criticism. But none of this has anything to do with the subject of this article. So, what exactly is the Forgiving Eye that I’m referring to? (Not to be confused with That Pesky Critic of Writers.) Let me give you an example.

A few years ago, I published my first novel, THE TALISMAN OF WRATH. A computer virus had corrupted the manuscript so badly that it took a great deal of time and toing-and-froing between Createspace and myself before the book could even be worth considering as publishable. It was during one of the many proof-reading sessions with my wife that the phenomenon first became apparent. We were sitting there, each with a copy of the physical proof while simultaneously reading the same page.

“Oops, there’s a typo,” she said.

“Where?” I asked with a puzzled frown.

She gave me the paragraph and line and I duly read it.

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked, completely puzzled by what to me, looked perfectly okay.

“Read it again,” she said with an annoying twinkle in her eye.

I complied and still it looked fine. Again, she insisted that there was a problem but refused to tell me what it was. In fact, she seemed maddeningly amused that I couldn’t see it.

“Read it aloud but read it slowly.”

Only when I did just that did it become blindingly obvious that I’d missed out an entire word. The word ‘the’ was missing from the sentence in question, yet my eye of forgiveness had registered it as being there every time I’d read It. My Forgiving Eye had forgiven my sin of omission and so my mind had just filled in the blank. It soon became clear that this was not a unique occurrence. Time and time again the same thing happened; my Forgiving Eye had blinded me to the truth of my mistakes.

Such was the extent of the corruption of my original manuscript, however, it proved impossible to iron out all of the book’s flaws. In the end I gave up and cried “Publish and be damned!” A decision I’ve always regretted. The knowledge that the ‘masterpiece’ I’d been planning to write for so many years contained so many imperfections rankled my soul every time I sat down to write the second book in the series. Perhaps that’s why it took four long years to come to fruition.

I firmly believe it was divine intervention that brought me together with Tom Blubaugh and Author’s Community. And it was Tom who advised me to finally iron out the wrinkles in THE TALISMAN OF WRATH. Unfortunately, to do this meant many long hours sitting at my laptop, painstakingly typing out a new manuscript. I had to copy it onto a new Word document from a corrected version of the original. Copy and paste? Hah! As if anything with this book could be that easy. It would copy and paste alright; but it copied and pasted the corruption as well as the text!

Eventually though, it was finished. But of course, my Forgiving Eye had forgiven me again and I had to find all the typos I’d added typing out the new manuscript! “Why is nothing ever easy?” I railed at nobody in particular.

At around this time, the second book in the series, A WAR OF DESTINY, was finished. I was determined not to fall into the same trap again and as it happened, a good writer friend of mine offered to proof-read it for me. I was pretty confident that he wouldn’t find anything wrong – perhaps the odd missing comma or two – because I’d carefully read it through several times myself. And I’d read it aloud, just to make sure (reading aloud is highly recommended). Curse your benevolence you Forgiving Eye! There were typos aplenty. Thank you, Graeme Stroud, for bringing them to my attention.

There are many, many authors out there – whether unpublished or self-published – who’s work is of the finest creative quality. It can be moving, uplifting, thought provoking, or even just pure escapism. But no matter how good it might be, if every time your readers are losing themselves in the prose, they are brought jarringly back to reality by grammar, spelling, or omission, you have – to some extent or other – failed.

So here then, is my advice: have your work proof-read. Professionally if possible but at the very least by someone who’s eye is somewhat more accusatory than your own – and the more accusatory their eye is, the better.
When it come to real life, however; when it comes to my genuine sins of mistake or omission, my Heavenly proof-reader’s Forgiving Eye is most definitely and sincerely welcome.

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3 thoughts on “The Forgiving Eye”

  1. Even pro proof-readers or Beta readers or even pro editors sometimes miss errors. A pro proofread my first book and when I had to re-type the printed book (from 1996) to format into an e-book for e-Readers like Kindle, I STILL found grammar and spelling errors! (Of course, it could have been the book printer’s fault…). Lulu will publish this “three-books-in-one” trilogy e-book, so they will likely do some proof-reading themselves (classic package-I got a great deal on this). So, in final proof-read, I am posting the entire book into PDF and large print, so I can more easily find the mistakes.

    1. Yes! The same thing happened to me when doing my 2nd edition of Refreshment in Refuge! The pesky problem is our eyes make sense of incorrect things all the time. I guess this is why cryptographers can figure out cyphers more easily.

  2. So, so, SO true that we miss our own (and even others’) mistakes as we read. The invisible word (or hyphen, apostrophe… etc etc)
    I bet in this day of text-speak, it will be even more difficult to spot the missing words!
    Thanks for the link to “Reading Aloud” too:)

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