Learning from History's Biggest Writing Blunders

When it comes to writing, mistakes usually can’t be avoided. Sometimes, these mistakes are accidental. Sometimes, they’re not. Sometimes, they’re monumental and tend to cost a lot. They can cause a publication to lose years of untainted reputation, set a writer’s career back, or even risk a life. Here's a list of famous writing blunders that we can learn from:

Authors are misunderstood.

Writers are humans. Let’s make that clear. Often, when they’re young and penniless, they turn to their craft to sustain a future where they can feed themselves and thus write better. It was under these circumstances that Jeanette Winterson, the famous author of the autobiographical novel Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, actually wrote about God in a comic book. That doesn’t mean she hates her writing; she only hates how much misunderstanding it causes. In her website, she mentioned how the book was written for money in six weeks and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Unless it’s the novel A Clockwork Orange and you are D.H. Lawrence, describing it as “a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks.” Lawrence pointed out that we all suffer from the popular desire to make the known notorious. In the critical biography Flame into Being: Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence, he was prepared to repudiate what had become known as “the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence.”

Copycat crimes happen.

There are also books that are taken out of context and glorified for all the wrong reasons. The novels of Agatha Christie are noted for their accurate depictions of poisons. The detective fiction book The Pale Horse, which tells the story of a historian who discovers that thallium is being used for a string of murders, was said to have inspired a number of copycat murders. An underlined copy of the Miss Marpy mystery, The Tuesday Club Murders, was also found in the possession of an office worker who murdered his aunt using the atropine sulphate in eyedrops.

Careers are shattered.

People lie, that’s for sure. When intricate and overdrawn lies are set in ink, it’s not only the writer who gets in trouble, but also the publication he or she works for. Lies in news reports are on a completely different level because their readers expect nothing but accurate and unbiased reports. This is why the transgressions of Stephen Glass, the infamous writer who fabricated dozens of articles featured in The New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, and others, were a big deal. The story of the serial fabricator spawned a book, a movie, and recognition in journalists’ handbooks as a lesson on media ethics.

Dinners are ruined, money lost.

No matter how focused a writer is, typographical and grammatical errors will always slip through the initial cut. Sometimes, when they do, the consequences are costly, and, well, political. The Penguin Group Australia had to reprint 7,000 copies of its Pasta Bible in 2010 after one recipe listed "salt and freshly ground black people" instead of black pepper.

All of these blunders portray certain lapses in the writing process, which can be averted by sticking close to basic principles and ethics. Getting caught for plagiarism or fabulism can be prevented by sticking to the facts and respecting the story. Typographical errors are ideally caught by proofreaders, though it helps for writers to revisit errors in drafts after stepping back from it for a while. In cases of misinterpretation, it always pays to be aware of the effects of whatever one writes. In a world where a single tweet can reach millions in minutes, writers should be more careful about the messages they convey and more aware of the social issues that follow.

Rowena Diocton
Rowena Diocton Hire Me

Technical Writer | Online Content Creator

Professionally, I have written all sorts of content you can possibly think of such as primers, technical reports, blog articles, advertorials, ad copies, scripts, slogans, marketing assets, presentations, video content, travelogues, and more. On the side, I enjoy feature writing, creative writing, writing book and movie reviews, and creating other interesting pieces.

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