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How to cope with making mistakes

Every writer’s worst nightmare is finding an error in print…but it happens, often, and to the very best of us. Here’s how to cope.

Dreading mistakes
All writers dread making mistakes in print.

My first job out of college was at the Courier News, then a 40,000-circulation daily newspaper covering central New Jersey. In a work history rife with nametags and “How may I help you?,” it remains the worst job I’ve ever had. I’d write multiple stories a day as part of a skeleton crew covering sprawling Hunterdon County, toiling through nights and weekends, scarfing down greasy lunches in plastic containers, failing to convince myself that my work had any impact. 

I endured from June 2000 to July 2001, an era when newspapers began their prolonged, job-killing slide from indispensable daily reference to an indispensable daily relic. The publisher’s strategy to stay relevant in the internet age involved more projects for an already-overtaxed, ever-dwindling staff. Faced with mounting deadlines and responsibilities, I began the lengthy, inevitable process of burying myself alive. I willed the days to stand still; they rarely complied. With every blurt of the police scanner, each court case involving children exposed to unspeakable horrors, I bungled facts and misspelled names. My editors, who were too busy drowning, threw me a rubber duck and called it a life preserver: They had me write out my questions for each story beforehand and fax the list to them for approval. 

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