How Do I Proofread Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

As I mentioned in my last post, editing is a crucial part of turning out a quality story. After solidifying story structure, plugging plot holes, nailing characterization, and powering up the writing itself, it’s time for proofreading.

Proofreading and polishing your own manuscript is nearly impossible. However, it’s awfully hard to spot your own mistakes. Since you know where there should be a “the” or a comma, you don’t necessarily see when it’s missing. Your brain fills in what’s not there.

Two sets of eyesSo how can you improve the odds of noticing and fixing your errors? Start with that tried-and-true saying: “Two sets of eyes are better than one.” Then create two sets of eyes from your own single set.

In other words, find ways to approach your manuscript from different viewpoints, and you’ll catch more than if you read it only one way. I’ve discovered this trick myself and want to share some ways a writer can edit or proofread their own words.

On the screen. Start with whatever program you typed it on and read through to catch the big errors that would stand out to almost anybody, as well as a few others you’ll notice.

Print it out. Yes, this requires using paper and ink, but there’s no substitute for seeing the story printed out on the page. Even more will jump out at you this way.

Read it aloud. I was surprised the first time I took someone’s advice and did this. It yielded such important information, including grammar mistakes, poor cadence, and stilted dialogue. Which I was then happy to edit to a higher quality.

Put it on an e-reader. I use Scrivener writing software, which allows me to easily compile my manuscript into an epub format for my Nook or a mobi format for my husband’s Kindle Fire. For my short story release, My Sister’s Demon, I read the story on both e-readers and caught different things each time.

Change the background and font. On an e-reader or other program, change the background to black and the font to white (or white/black if you usually do the other way). Flipping your color scheme reveals even more words and punctuation you may wish to change.

Have it read aloud to you. Check for a text-to-speech feature on your e-reader. Or save your manuscript as a pdf file and use Adobe’s Read Out Loud feature (Menu / View / Read Out Loud / Activate Read Out Loud). Yes, the voice sounds monotonous and robotic, but hearing your words can you help notice things you don’t see on the page.

Of course, once you’ve done all you can do, it’s time to get that real second set of eyes. Have an extremely knowledgeable friend or fellow writer (not just, “Hey, I was an English major!” but more like, “My friends want to pummel me sometimes because I’m such a grammar stickler.”) take a look.

Even better, hire a copy editor. Ask for recommendations and be prepared to pay a little for professional quality.

I’ve got my own fingers crossed that I caught all of the errors in my recently released short story. But, of course, if anyone notices a grammar oops, I’m all ears. I’ve definitely run out of sets of eyes.

Speaking of having my fingers crossed, let’s see how my writing went in the past two weeks. (Yep, I failed to check in last week!) Here’s my progress update for A Round of Words in 80 Days:

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. I read Defiant, a historical romance novel, by Jessica Trapp, and How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, YA contemporary, by Simone Elkeles. I’m also halfway through Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. 8 1/2 of 12 finished!

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. I started editing, then peeled away to do more research on plotting and scene crafting. I’m currently reading The Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain and next up is Create a Plot Clinic by Holly Lisle. Another Mother May I baby step.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Edited all the way through A Little Fairy Dust, the next short story to be released. I also rewrote the first chapter, using feedback from a beta reader, and I’m happy with the result. Solid  progress.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon is available on Amazon and coming soon to Barnes & Noble, plus I now have a Goodreads Author pageHalf done!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited 7 blogs, including a couple of new ones. Done!

What do you do to proofread your own writing? What tricks have you discovered? And how was your week?

23 thoughts on “How Do I Proofread Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

  1. That’s a great list. I use almost all of them on each manuscript except the text to speech and printing. I should probably give them another try. I’ve also heard that reading a page from the last paragraph to the first can be helpful. We know our stories so well, but do we know them backwards, lol.
    I found your Goodreads author page and was excited about declaring myself a fan. I finally bought Debra Dixon’s GMC and I’m looking forward to reading it. Great job this week, Julie. Keep it up and get back to Sharing Hunter pretty please. 🙂

    1. Confession: I haven’t used the text-to-speech feature either, but I know some who have and say it’s worthwhile. I’ll probably try it myself too.

      The backwards tip is a great one! Thanks for that. Have a great week!

  2. Great list! Especially the idea of exporting them to read in different formats. Scrivener is awesome 🙂

    1. I agree that we dismiss reading aloud too much. I think it equated in my mind for so long with poor reading skills — you know, having to sound out words. But it’s a very useful practice. Thanks for coming by!

  3. Sounds like a great week.

    Been toying with the idea of getting scrivener. Thanks for the link to it. It was very appropriate that I happened to visit your blog today.

    I will also be using the proofreading tips. I have utilized some of them, especially the reading out loud. You definitely catch more when you hear the words.

    Have a fantastic week!

    1. Hey, if you do get Scrivener, I’d encourage you to take a course on it as well. I took an online one from Gwen Hernandez, and it really helped me to use the software better and customize it to my needs. Have a fantastic week yourself, Cindy! Thanks.

  4. These are some great ideas for editing. I had never considered using Scrivener and exporting to both types of e-books. The good thing, is that you can export to the free reading apps for each, so you ostensibly don’t need the individual devices (but it’s nice to have them, obviously).

    You had a great week!

  5. I have also heard that going through your story pages in reverse order is a good way to catch mistakes, though I’ve never actually tried it. Big +1 for printing out, reading aloud, and copyeditors. And big congrats on the new release!

    1. I’d forgotten that tip, Jennette, but I’d heard it before. I’ve never tried reading my story backwards, though. Guess I should! Thanks for your encouragement. Have a terrific week!

  6. Those are some excellent tips! Reading out loud can catch so many errors, I’ve found, especially in dialogue. I also print out my MS, or parts of it anyway, to try and catch any errors I might have missed editing it on the computer. Great job on your goals and I hope you have a great week!

    1. Thanks, Kat! Yeah, my bad dialogue really stands out like the proverbial sore thumb when read aloud. (Yikes!) Hope you have a wonderful week.

  7. You’re right, Julie. Even we grammar Nazis will include a grammatical error now and then. My wife doesn’t know enough about writing to edit content, but she always edits me for grammar, spelling and typos, and it surprises me how many grammatical errors I manage to slip in.

    1. “To err is human, to forgive divine.” 🙂 Let’s hope even we grammar nuts are forgiven when we mess up from time to time.

      Have a marvelous week, David!

  8. Thank you for the different methods for proofreading. I didn’t know Adobe could do text to speech so I’m looking forward to using that.
    And congrats on all the writing achievements these past 2 weeks. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the tips. I hate proofreading my own stuff. I used to work for a newspaper and I hated proofreading the social news announcements I edited because there were always mistakes.

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