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?

What an Edited Page Looks Like

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

red pen
Fear the Red Pen

Do you remember submitting a paper to your English teacher and having it returned with her editing marks? Some teachers were gracious and made suggestions rather than commands to fix the problems, perhaps even including happy faces or exclamation points in those sections where your writing was particularly good. Other teachers were less merciful and told it like it was–marking up your pages with ink until they were covered like a tattoo-sleeved arm. The result was that you learned to Fear the Red Pen.

It can thus be difficult to make the transition to marking up your own writing like the hard-lined instructor with the red pen poised like a hatchet and ready to prune your pretty writing. But you must.

You can no longer fear the red pen. In fact, you must embrace it…and add some highlighters and/or other colored pens to the mix. When your nasty teacher corrected you, she seemed cruel. But you must be cruel to yourself…cruel to be kind. (Yes, of course, “in the right measure.”)

So for all of the beautiful talk of inspirational muses and writing flowing from our fingertips like fairy dust and weaving of the story plot like a crocheted blanket to warm us, it is time to discover what the editing process can look like. Without further ado, here’s a no-holds-barred, buck-stops-here, fix-it-til-it-works look at an edited page.

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THAT is what writing looks like. What we often don’t see when we open the crisp spine and thumb through our favorite books–or download the ebook and scroll the pages across our screen–is that the author toiled to get those words in that order to convey the meaning she wanted.

I didn’t realize going into writing that I would actually welcome ink all over a page I’d written. The result of such toil is writing that flows effortlessly across that page and bids the reader to continue.

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.”~Michelangelo

This is true of any writing–whether fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, advertising, your master’s thesis, your research paper, or the essay you’re writing for your high school English course. If you want to avoid the red pen of others, embrace it yourself. Force yourself to take the writing to a higher level.

What else have I done to take my writing to a higher level? Here’s my week’s check-in.

ROW Update

Editing/Writing

  • Complete full rewrite of SHARING HUNTER. Rewrote one chapter. I’m kicking this into gear this week. Hello, FAST DRAFT, starting Monday. If you want to join in, let me know. I’d be happy to give and receive encouragement!
  • Edit first short story. Deep edited last chapter. Letting it sit for a week, then I’ll polish it up.
  • Write second short story. First draft finished last week.
  • Write blog posts for Sundays (including ROW80 updates) and Wednesdays. Posted Music Covers and ROW80 on Sunday and The Language of 19th Century Spirit Mediums on Wednesday (with guest K.B. Owen) and Stepping Up and Stepping Out: The Mark of a Man on Friday.
  • Complete weekly lessons for Writing Body Language course. This week was lips/mouth, touch, and dialogue cues. Completed, with thanks to my fabulous class editing partner, Rachel Funk Heller.

Reading

  1. Hush Now, Don’t You Cry by Rhys Bowen (historical mystery)
  2. The Yard by Alex Grecian (historical mystery)
  3. Your Spiritual Personality by Marita Littauer (nonfiction)
  4. The Ruth Valley Missing by Amber West (mystery)
  5. The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen (historical mystery)
  6. Frosted by Wendy Sparrow (paranormal romance)
  7. Savage Cinderella by P.J. Sharon (YA contemporary)
  8. Blood Ties by Lori G. Armstrong (mystery)
  9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (literary fiction)
  10. Tighter by Adele Griffin (YA contemporary)
  11. The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover
  12. Shrilugh by Myndi Shafer – started

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Participated in the first yoga class on Monday. I couldn’t make Wednesday’s class, and Zumba was on hiatus. So half-done.
  • Take a true Sabbath–no working and time with God and family one day a week. Done.

Comment on whatever you want. Editing. ROW80. The annoying English teacher you had in 9th grade who red-inked everything you ever wrote. Your pick.

Wednesday Words: Should You Correct Friends?

My feet shuffle across the hard floor, as chairs creak and a cough echoes in the half-empty room.  I clear my throat, lean over to the microphone on its rickety stand, and announce:  “My name is Julie, and I am a correcta-holic.”  At least that’s what I confessed in my post about Obsessive-Correcting Disorder, although I don’t really think being a stickler for correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar is a disease that requires diagnosis or treatment.   Still, I can imagine that others may not want to send a note, shoot an email, or chat with me on Facebook after I have admitted to naturally noticing such errors.

Rest assured, however, that the grammar sticklers I know, including moi, are not mentally grading your work like an English teacher with a red pen.  (Do they still use red? I heard that injures self-esteem.)  There is a difference between published works and informal communication!

If I pick up a novel and notice ten errors in the first chapter, my thought is, “This was written and/or edited poorly.  This author and/or publisher did not care enough about the reader to clear up errors so that the book reads smoothly.”  (And I often toss the book aside like unidentifiable leftovers from my fridge.)  Advertising flyers, business signs, newsletters, and websites get the same level of merciless scrutiny.  These are professional publications that should be edited and proofread!

However, if I open my email inbox and someone has shot me a “Youre blog was terrific! Cant wait to read more posts!” I’m excited that they sat down and penned me a personal note!  If I notice the errors at all, I figure it’s because our lives are harried and they wrote in a hurry.

Now granted, if almost every Tweet, Facebook post, or email from someone is riddled with errors, I will figure that this person could use a remedial writing course; English is their fourth language; or they simply don’t care.  And it will unnerve me like an itch between my shoulder blades that I just can’t reach.  But when it comes to informal communication, a good rule is judge not, lest ye be judged!

I’ve read over things I sent out to a friend in a hurry and been appalled at an egregious misspelling or the absence of a crucial word.  My most recent ridiculous error was tweeting back to another author (Wendy Sparrow – check out her blog here) about how much I enjoyed reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and typing, “Stickers unite!”  (Duh.  Sticklers.)  Thankfully, with friends, we fill in the gaps and determine the meaning nonetheless.   To err is human, to forgive divine!

I proofread my emails, blog posts, tweets, etc. because I consider those few seconds well spent.  But errors still spill through the cracks.  And if I corrected every informal message that I received, I would waste precious time that I could devote to more productive pursuits; stop receiving texts from my children; and be that itch between the shoulder blades that my friends and family just can’t reach.

You see, this is why I don’t think I have a problem that requires intervention.  (So my family can stop planning one, thank you very much.)  I can turn that correcting part of my brain off when it isn’t useful to the communication.

At least, most of the time.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, I think!), my husband and children are still subjected to my periodic correcting, regardless of context.  The rest of you are relatively safe.

What do you think about errors in professional publications vs. informal communication?  How do you approach it?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  1,038 of 5,000 words for the week; found serious timeline error in manuscript so pulling out hair and working that out; keeping up with three blogs at week (despite AT&T accidentally yanking my internet today).  All in all, progress!