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Crochety old man stuff

October 26, 2010
Posted at 9:53 am

Many people write to me asking for personal information. They're not being nosy, they're just interested in the person behind the pen. Sometimes I share with them, and sometimes I don't. It just depends on what they're asking for. But something happened the other day that shows a side of me that some people might find interesting. It involves how I react to criticism. And I thought maybe some of you might be interested in that.

I got a message that I'll paste in below. The only thing I've changed is the sender's email address, to protect his identity.

Message from: <> :

The delight of reading a good writer gets jarred
each time you confuse "it's" with "its." Though
you doubtless have your own resources, "it's" is a
contraction for "it is;" "its" is the possessive
case of "it." Hope that helps.

Now, before I show you how I responded to this person, let me plead my own defense. I've been writing books(and posting) now for five or six years. I wrote, of course, for forty years before that, and I learned the difference between "its" and "it's" in about 1958.

My problem is that, while I type 90 words per minute, I don't necessarily do it well. I transpose a lot of letters as if my fingers were dyslexic. Like "teh" instead of "the" and "gind" instead of "find." It drives Michelle, my proofreader, crazy, and makes Peaches almost catatonic. And, occasionally, I transpose "it's" where "its" should be.

In five years, I have been notified of this 153 times.

No, I haven't counted them. I just decided it was that many. We authors get to use poetic license.

I'll say more, but first you need to see how I responded to this feedback. I framed this response within three or four minutes of reading the message. Then I revised it and added something. See if you can figure out which part was written immediately, and which part was written after I thought about things for a minute or two.

Dear Mr. Doe,

I don't have my own resources. I have 153 readers who have a squick about its versus it's, all of whom have informed me of the difference. I just miss one now and then. Since you didn't specify which of my 194 stories you saw the problem in, it will take me a little time to go through all 2.67 million words to find it. It's going to take a while.
{author comment: I also turned that last "It's" red}

Now you may have leaned back, and are frowning at how ungrateful that looks at first glance. I'm not ungrateful at all. I was just unable to use your particular information to make one or more of my stories better by finding the error and correcting it. That's as frustrating for me as it is for you to read the wrong word.<G>

I do thank you for the thought, though. And I really do appreciate that you find my work otherwise good and are sometimes delighted. That's what I'm aiming for.

Thanks for reading.

Now I realize that I was much less gracious about things than Mr. Doe was. And I even feel a little bit bad for snapping at him, at least initially.

But the fact is his feedback was not helpful in any way, understanding that I do, in fact, already know the difference between "its" and "it's." And he identified me as "a good writer" which suggests he doesn't think I'm an uneducated dolt. And yet, he decided to educate me anyway.

And the fact is that I have been notified of this problem at least a dozen times.

So what I want to make clear here is that I don't actually mind being corrected, regardless of what my response to him looks like. I have, in the past, gone to what some might call extreme lengths to try to catch problems like this. There was a time when, after I finished a story, and before I posted it, I went through the entire thing using a search program and examined every "it's" to see if I was using the right word. I also did it looking at "here" because my fingers often typed that instead of "her". I did it for "we're" to make sure it wasn't supposed to be "were" and for "you're" when it was supposed to be "your."

And what started happening was that it took an extra week to get a story out there. I was willing to go through this tedious process, because I really do want my stuff to be error free. I got Peaches and Michelle to help me find problems, and they did it wonderfully.

And what I found out then was that no matter how much time we spent on something, one of you sharp eyed readers out there would inevitably find something wrong.

So now, I write the story, spell check the story, and send it to either Michelle or Peaches. I read through each chapter again before I post it. And then, when one of my three thousand undercover proofreaders sends me an email pointing out something we missed, I fix it and repost the chapter. I have accepted that I have some flaws, and fingers that are both comma and apostrophe happy sometimes.

All I can say is "Caveat emptor." Buyer beware!


Silly me. I almost forgot. There's no buying going on here.

Well, unless you support SOL with a donation. But that goes for access, not accuracy, and Laz is doing a fantastic job of providing access.

So the purpose of this blog entry, other than to open a window on my crotchety, cranky personality, is to tell you I'm not confused, like this reader thought. What I am is imperfect, and I sometimes goof up. I actually appreciate it when you tell me about it. Telling me the story name and chapter (at a minimum) the goof was in, is very helpful to me, and I'll gladly repair the error. I can't speak for other authors, but I really like the help, because I want things to be as good as possible.

And if I snarl at you, it will only be because your message wasn't helpful.

I hope this little glimpse into my personal life has been enjoyable. It's flattering to get requests to know about what I'm like and all that stuff.

By the way. To As to whether I wear boxers or briefs - Honey, I was in the Army. I go commando.

Gee. I kind of like sharing personal stuff. It makes me feel all tingly.

Thanks for asking.