You know what an actor’s nightmare is, right? It’s when it's opening night and you’re in a play that you’ve never seen a script for. And sometimes you're not wearing pants. I always imagined that a writer’s nightmare would be that a book of mine would go to press with mistakes. Not a missed comma here or there, but an obvious error I made and didn’t catch.
Well it happened to me. And I feel like a complete moron.
I’m not going to tell you what the error is in hopes that you’re a part of the reading population it won’t matter to. I would love to blame this on my editor. Or my copy editor. Or my critique group. Or my husband (when in doubt, he’s a marvelous scapegoat). But it’s nobody’s fault but my own.
How did it happen? I’m a fast writer and sometimes, rather than verifying a detail, I plug something in thinking I’ll go back and change it later so that I don’t interrupt my flow. In this instance, I used a placeholder and then forgot about it because…well….because there were a thousand other details in my mind that I needed to attend to. And I’m an idiot. As I read draft after draft what should’ve stuck out like a sore thumb, insidiously wedged its way into the text and became a legitimate part of the story.
Someone else caught the error, the last person I’d want to have pointing out my mistakes, but by that point the book was on its way to the printer and it was too late, and too expensive, to do anything about it.
My editor assures me this happens with every book. In fact, there’s even a website devoted to it, where I find myself in the illustrious company of Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, and Steven King. In truth it’s a small thing. A single detail. A poorly chosen word that would only rip certain people out of the story and temporarily at that. But I’m one of them and that sucks. This will always be The Book with the Mistake in It.
I’ve mourned the error the way you mourn a fresh scar you know won’t go away. I know it could be much worse. I could’ve been caught plagiarizing scholarly research on black-footed ferrets. I could’ve carefully created a murder scene that so closely mimicked a real life crime that the authorities realized that there was a very good chance I had actually murdered someone. I could’ve erroneously called my book a memoir. I could’ve accidentally inserted a block of text from personal correspondence that revealed my long-standing love of prostitutes and how for years I’ve been client number 9 at a well-known brothel. In the grand scheme of things this is tiny.
When I screw up on stage I try to make a bit out of it. Let the audience know I know I messed up and share -- rather than suffer-- the laughter. You’ll leave them wondering if you didn’t intend to do it all along. I made a decision to do something similar with this mistake. I've reclaimed it. It’s part of the story now and by golly I’m going to do something with it.
But you better believe I've gone over ever manuscript since with a fine toothed comb.So hit me with your best mistake -- writing or otherwise. How'd you make lemonade of that lemon?