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?

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!

Obsessive-Correcting Disorder

I stand in the local Hallmark store staring at the handmade sign above the card rack.  The words are written in black Sharpie pen – the same kind of pen I just happen to have in my purse.  The misspelling is egregious.  The clerks are busy with other customers.  I slip out the pen, glance around furtively, and then add the missing letter onto the sign.  Aaah!  A wave of relaxation passes over me.  Now, I can continue my shopping, knowing that I have benefitted the Hallmark company and all of the customers that will pass this display after me.  The world has been made right. 

You know you’re a grammar or punctuation stickler when you start pointing out printed errors to the staff of restaurants, stores, or other businesses.  When a poorly punctuated brochure or a conspicuous misspelling on a menu cry out to you for justice.  When you arrive at your friends’ home, view the welcome sign by her front door, and wonder if you should inform her that the “Smith’s” (possessive) do not live here, but the “Smiths” (plural) do.

But you know you’ve joined the ranks of the obsessive-compulsive when you begin correcting signs yourself!  My best friend was first to cross the line of idiosyncrasy when she revised a menu item written in chalk at a restaurant before being escorted to a table.  I was more secretive in that moment when I finally realized that I had been given a gift that must be used for the greater good, to right the wrongs of incorrect language usage.  And really, at some point, it is easier to do it yourself than to try to explain to the manager or another employee why the word should be “its” instead of “it’s” or how to spell “specialty.”

Needless to say, this can be embarrassing to any companions who are with you at the time.  Alright, alright . . . bowing to pressure, I will admit that it is not potentially embarrassing; it is downright shudder-inducing to your family and friends!  They may take several large steps away from you, deny that you are in their party, and ignore your repeated attempts to get their attention, even if those efforts include shouting, waving your arms like a chicken, or sobbing uncontrollably.

Still, you are right.  Stick to your guns.  It is appalling how many spelling and grammatical mistakes are tolerated in our otherwise high-achieving society!  The world needs your knowledge and candor to point out where it can improve!  To maintain the highest standards of communication for the dignity of all people!  To preserve the written word and carry it forward untarnished to the next generation!  You are on level with superheroes, world leaders, and religious icons in preserving the values for which we live!

Does society frown on the world-class swimmer who jumps in the pool to save a drowning child?  Do people look down upon the medically-trained citizen who performs the Heimlich maneuver on a choking diner?  Do others condemn the What Not to Wear hosts when they call attention to crimes against fashion?  Of course not!  Neither should they fail to recognize the benefit you bestow on mankind with your keen eye and willingness to act for the sake of rescuing the errant sentence or phrase!

Use the talent given to you.  But remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And if you happen to notice any errors in this blog post, please inform me.  (But do so gently.  I may not take it very well.)