Congratulations on writing your story/novella/manifesto! You put your blood, sweat and other bodily fluids into it and can’t wait to unleash it on the world! This is going to be the written work that makes you a legend as well as getting that cute redhead to finally notice you!
But hold on, you still need to proofread that sucker! You don’t want typos, bad sentence structures and poor grammar to distract from your genius. Someone needs to read this thing and make sure it is understandable.
In a perfect world, that someone should be someone other than you. A fresh set of eyes without inside knowledge of the masterpiece you created will look at your work with unbiased eyes. They are the best hope you have at catching all of the errors.
The problem is, proofreading is work and like all work, it should be compensated for. Oh, early on you will have people volunteering to proofread for you and those eager souls are truly a blessing but let’s face it, they are doing work for free and that is not right. The longer and more complex your work, the more of a burden it will be on your volunteer proofreaders to put aside their responsibilities to do you a favor. You should really hire someone to do it.
But what if your genius isn’t recognized by the world yet? What if your cutting edge work only gets three purchases a month on Amazon? In short, what if you can’t afford someone to proof your work?
Well then you need to go to to it yourself and I am here to offer my top six tips for Do It Yourself Proofing!
Take a long break and do something else before you proof something that you have written. The worse thing you can do is finish something and then turn around and edit it. You are too close to the forest to see the trees. I recommend writing another story, or ideally, something close to the length of the thing you want to proof. The more separation the better. This way by the time you come back to the story you want to proof, you will have forgotten some bits and be almost like a new reader to your own work. That is when you are really going to notice the unclear shit that you wrote.
Print it out. Look, you have been staring at this work on your screen for quite a while. I bet if I asked you about a certain part, you could scroll to it instinctively without looking. You know the computer document inside and out but what you haven’t seen is the paper version. Print it out, and maybe choose a different font, and it will almost be a stranger to you. Strangers are good because you first meet a stranger that is when you immediately notice how big their nose is, or the fact that you use the word ‘sensuous’ in every other sentence about sex.
Read it out loud. This might seem annoying and it will certainly slow your proofreading down but let me tell you, it fucking works. This is the best way to catch when you have omitted a word from a sentence. Oh my Goddess, you also have no idea how bad your dialogue might be until you read it out loud. Weirdly, I learned this from the first Sin City movie. I loved the books, but when the characters were reading word for word from the book on the big screen, I was struck by how utterly ridiculous it all was. Reading out loud also slows you down and forces you to pay attention to every word.
Document your weak points. As you read your work, keep an eye out for patterns that you do. Some patterns are good and are what Richard Laymon called “your special sauce.” Other patterns like a tendency to use the phrase “deep inside her” twelve times in a single sex scene are not so good. As you note these problems, put them in a list that you refer to before every editing job. It will be a refresher course for you on what to keep an eye out for.
Your spellchecker is not to be trusted. Oh sure, it will help you from typing a garbage collection of letters but for some reason my spellchecker thinks ‘bene’ is a word. I am sure it is somewhere in some universe but it sure as fuck isn’t ‘been’ which is what I wanted to type. The spellchecker is there is to catch the big giant errors but only a proofreader is going to catch that you left out the word ‘the’. Just because there are no red squiggles on the screen doesn’t mean there still aren’t problems. They are just better hidden.
Read it backwards. This is my most effective tool after Tip#2. Some people read every word backwards but I can’t do that. What I do is start with the last paragraph and read it to the finish. Then I go to the start of the previous paragraph, read that and then repeat. Doing this makes me approach each paragraph fresh and lacking context. It is chopping the proofing into bite-size bits that are independent of each other. I catch all sorts of shit this way and my self-proofing has vastly improved.