Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quick Update - and Some Tips Toward Proofing Your Own Work

I didn't get as much done today as I'd hoped, but I did get two decent editing sessions in on Harsh Climate.

I am currently in the line editing phase of this, but I like to do some proofing and copy editing whenever I look through the manuscript. It is incredibly hard to proofread your own work. You know the acronym WYSIWYG - which means "what you see is what you get"? Well there's a better acronym for proofreading:

WYSIWYM - What You See Is What You Mean.

You know what you were trying to say, and the rhythms of your voice play so easily in your head. You very often see what you meant to write, instead of what you actually did write.

The very best solution to this is to have someone else go over the manuscript and mark errors they see. They will not be perfect either (especially if they're a friend doing a favor and you can't expect them to go over it several times). Whether you have a good proofreader helping you, or you're doing it on your own, though, you want to get the manuscript in as close to perfect shape as you can.

Here are a few ideas toward getting there:

1. Time. Set the story aside for a bit. You can often see errors if prose is cold in your memory.

2. Print the story out and edit on paper. It will look different and that will help you catch errors.

3. If you make a certain mistake all the time, keep notes on it, so you can use the "search function" to find and fix it.

4. Look for common mistakes everybody makes - even if you know better. Even if you know the difference between its and it's, that doesn't mean you won't ever stick an apostrophe in when you're typing fast and your brain just thinks "possessive=apostrophe."

5. Change the font or font size so that things look different on screen. A very large font can help you find errors in particular.

6. Proofread backwards. Well, not completely backwards. Start with the last sentence and proof that, then the sentence before, and the sentence before. There are errors you won't catch this way, but it does help get you out of the flow of the story so you can concentrate on spelling and grammar.

7. Read aloud while you proof. (This is a good way to find awkward sentences as well as errors.)

8. Take your time. Do it in small bits if necessary. Take the time to look things up as you go.

You don't have to use all of these techniques, but even just mixing it up with a few of them can help you get through the dull slog of proofing. You've got to do that job, and you've got to do it well.

In the meantime, I had a comment on my goals post about my 1000 words a day goal. Tomorrow I'll try to do a post on why I think it's the best day-in day-out goal, and how you can keep those words coming, and keep them good.


Eric Satchwill said...

I'm a big fan of the print to edit technique. Not only is it easier to catch silly little errors, I have an easier time editing when I can just write over top of it by hand.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips for proofing your own work! It's hard to get that distance sometimes.

Diana J said...

Useful tips. I like the idea of proof reading backwards. I also agree about getting others to check it through. That helps to give you feedback on the story as well as catching minor errors.Thanks for the reminders.

The Daring Novelist said...

Elizabeth - thanks for tweeting this! Apparently it's a very popular subject.

Eric and Diana - and hey, the "proofing backwards" technique works best when you print it out on paper! (That way you can check off the paragraphs you've done.)