Proofreading When the Writing’s Done by @JoRobinson176

One of the biggest things I learned on my Indie trip was that I couldn’t see my own mistakes. I must have proofread my first manuscript dozens and dozens of times, and I was very confident that it was pristine. Then I went on to editing and made some changes to paragraphs, swopped words around, and thought that that was that. I had put many hours into the polishing, and was feeling all warm and fuzzy that I’d done the work well when I hit that publish button. How very, very wrong I was. There were still typos and grammar gremlins in the book after all of that hard graft, primarily in the changes I’d made, and I came down to Earth with a bang in a blaze of shame, realising that that the editing was not at all complete when I thought it was.

I learned that if you write something and proofread it yourself, your brain knows what word is coming next, so it often sees a typo as it should be, even though a typo in another writer’s work will stop you in your tracks, seeing your own isn’t so easy. These days I’m much more careful, and I make sure that eyeballs other than my own go over my stories before they’re published. Typos still can slip through, but luckily with Indie publishing they can be very quickly fixed. There are some tried and tested ways to help yourself when you dive into your first round of proofing.

Firstly, take a break and put the manuscript away for a week or so, or at least a few days if you can’t wait. Do your run of the mill spell check, then choose how you’re going to read it. I generally print it out for the first go around, and mark it up with a gel pen, using a thick ruler under the sentence I’m reading so my eyes can’t be drawn to what comes next. After fixing the errors I’ve found so far I then convert it to a Mobi file using the free Calibre software, and read it through again on my Kindle for PC. I’m always amazed at how many errors I pick up this way. Then after another fix up session I’ll read the word document with the font size increased quite a bit, and then print it out again for another going over. I have heard some writers say that changing the font colour when reading on the computer is jarring enough for them to spot more errors, but I haven’t tried this one out myself yet.

It’s a slow process, and so it should be, as I discovered to my mortification, so now I do the work. For my semi-final going over, I separate the book into chapters and read them in random order. I read a page at a time, and from the bottom up, one sentence at a time. It took me some getting used to, but it really worked for me. I tried reading upside down as one fellow scribbler recommended but that just made me feel a little queasy. Finally I use the Find function in word to search for words I know I always overuse. I check my character’s name spellings the same way, and I then search a couple of commonly mixed up contractions and apostrophes.

Then the manuscript heads off to fresh eyeballs for a brand new going over, and when it comes back I read it again, out loud, before starting on the formatting for publishing. If you can’t afford to pay for a professional proofreader then you could maybe try and swop proofing with another writer. Or maybe exchange it for something else that you’re good at – like cover design if that’s what the other writer prefers, but you definitely need someone other than you to read your book before you publish it. It’s a learning enterprise this Indie journey, and we grow as we go, and help each other along the way. I’ve heard some wonderful things about Grammarly lately. It’s a free online tool that finds so much more than just typos – things like homonyms and other grammar gremlins that hide so well, so I’ll be giving that a try next time round. Hope you all have a wonderful long weekend fellow scribblers.

Grammar Gremlins

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42 thoughts on “Proofreading When the Writing’s Done by @JoRobinson176”

  1. Yikes. Sounds grueling. If I ever hit publishing stage it will be edited and proofread, by other people than me, because my own spelling and grammar is just horrid, you know before the publishing.

    Since you have written many books, could you write us an article of all the steps it takes to get a book to publishing stage?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve definitely got the right plan getting it properly edited and proofed. Not doing that for my first was the biggest learning curve I’ve ever had – it was ouch. 😀 I’ll do a steps article next then – that’s actually quite fun once you get the formatting done. The page numbering for print was a challenge for me, but I eventually got it right, so it’ll be good to share that.

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  2. Good post, Jo. As you know, it’s a subject close to my heart. 🙂 Excellent idea to “exchange” skills. I recently did that when I found a super developmental editor.

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    1. Thank you Wendy. You’re the best kind of editor because you’re gentle as well as thorough with your eagle eye. I think sometimes Indies are shy of asking for help with swops. Now that I’m out of internet darkness I’m thinking of posting something where people can say what they want and what they want to exchange for it. Free for all. 🙂

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  3. Thanks Jo. I’ve tried some and I’ve tried some. I like to read it to myself (I know some people use the text to speech) to pick up repetition… I like your suggestion with Calibre and reading it in the reader. I’ve exchanged translation for editing but it’s labour and time-intensive too.

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    1. Thanks to you Olga! I haven’t tried the text to speech yet but that sounds like a brilliant idea too – so on the list for next time. Reading it in the reader has been where I find most of the gremlins – I reckon all Indies should have Kindle for PC loaded as an editing tool – it’s really great to see the book as it will look in its final incarnation. Translation is seriously hard work. I translated a short memoir from high Dutch to English a couple of years ago, and it was much harder work than editing I reckon, so that sounds like a very valuable swop on input.

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  4. Don’t feel bad Jo. I’m an editor. I know very well how hard it is to proof your own work. I went over my manuscript multiple times, got a couple of people to proof it for me — and still there were things we missed. (Though i can blame my computer’s malicious habit of moving the cursor when i edit for a couple of them… vicious machine…) I console myself that i’ve never seen a best seller without mistakes. Mega-hugs. 😀

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    1. Thank you Teagan! Three Things – computer – malicious – machine – sounds like a brilliant tale to me. 😀 You’re so right about the bestsellers. I found eight in the Carpe Jugulum ebook before I stopped counting. I reckon that Indie books are judged more harshly than traditional works. HUGS!

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    1. I’m really looking forward to giving Grammarly a go next time. In Zimbabwe I couldn’t pay for proofreading because PayPal wasn’t an option up there, but looking back now, I should have tried to swop. Would you not like some eyeballs to proof yours?

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      1. I’m a shy person .. it’s not easy for me to approach others. I live on a small pension and can’t afford to pay for proof reading. Don’t spend enough time writing my book as I’m always on Internet. I tell stories on my blogs and print the pages. One day I might escape from online world to a sanctuary and pour my heart into the words.

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  5. I can swear–swear–such and such is not what I left on the page and I’ll be w.r.o.n.g. It’s so true, your brain ‘remembers’ what you believe is on the page, but with all the changes you’ve made, somethings manage to slip through the cracks. ❤ Fab post. It's difficult to proof-read your own work.

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    1. Thank you Tess! I definitely made the worst mistakes with the changes after proofreading and then not going over the whole thing again. Definitely not possible to spot everything yourself. ❤

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  6. Jo, this is spot on. I am an ESL instructor and everything you’re writing is exactly what we have our students doing with their writing after their “final” revision. Point: Any lawyer will tell you that our eyes and our brain function independently. We have our students proofread their final essays by reading from the last sentence toward the first, because their brain loses the context that way and they just focus on what they see, not what they anticipate seeing. We also have them read in groups, sometimes reading their own paper out-loud, sometimes trading papers, and giving the essay to another student to read to the writer.

    Also, what I discovered, is that with computer editing, without that tactile experience, with computerized cutting and pasting, things are left in that aren’t supposed to be, and things are cut that aren’t supposed to me.

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  7. Jo, I have a blog post that shares statistical analysis of the success rate of word processing correction software that my husband (a statistician) and I did on writing that contained errors. Here’s the URL: “Can – or Should – Indie Writers Really Rely on Editing Software? A Look at the Data” http://bit.ly/1xFofY6

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    1. Thank you Jane! That’s a really eye-opening article. It’s so true that computers can never find much in the way of errors other than very basic ones. Your figures should be a wakeup call to anyone who thinks that spellcheck is enough of an edit. We have to have other human eyes read our work – and preferably humans qualified to know what to look for. I’m going to check out Grammarly soon, but I totally agree with you – we can’t only rely on machines to proof our work.

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  8. Typos and other invisible problems drive me crazy too. I do most of what you recommend. Never tried mixing up the chapters (which I could do) or reading it backwards, sentence by sentence (which might give me a headache:). After doing a dozen reads in different fonts, sizes, line spacing, printed, and aloud, I swap with 4 other authors…and guess what…we still miss a few. Ugh.

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    1. I didn’t spot one in The Bone Wall – I guess the zooming on to find out what happens next makes them disappear. 🙂 I haven’t read many books like that, and some of the trads are really riddled with them. Slippery little beggars.

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      1. That sounds impossible, but thank you. I’ll tell my critique group – they’ll be smiling. It is rather fascinating how the brain does a bit of an organic spell check as it reads. It knows what is supposed to be there and makes the internal correction for us. Hmmm.

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        1. I’ve got a laser eagle eye when it comes to typos in any writing other than my own. Spotting a really glaring one in an old Terry Pratchett paperback threw me off my reading game for hours once. 😀 You’re totally spot on about the internal correction though. Isn’t it fabulous that we get all the same things so wonderfully wrong sometimes?

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  9. I’m going to toot the flute a little longer about Grammarly and the limits of using and depending on this program.

    I just took 4 paragraphs from my ESL student’s essays, which I use in my software program and specifically chose because it is full of errors in gerunds and infinitive phrases. I entered it in the online free Grammarly tool. Grammarly “found” 2 grammar errors: 1 verb form, 1 sequence of tenses (there are no errors in sequence of tenses). It “found” 1 error in punctuation (there were none). It found one error in word choice and one error improper use of colloquial phrases. The fact is this essay had serious errors with gerunds and infinitive phrases which were not at all picked up.

    It also said “PROBLEMS IN PLAGARISM.” My student wrote this in my classroom. Maybe it thinks that more than one person cannot have an experience beginning a new day with the smell of fresh Columbian coffee and having to share a bathroom!

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  10. Thank you for sharing your experience! I am not a writer, I am a student. In future a want to become a writer, but one of my problems is a great number of grammar and spelling mistakes( I always check my works by myself, but I miss many mistakes( what should I do? should I always hire a professional proofreading service? and which one should I hire?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah, and welcome to the tribe. 🙂 It’s pretty much impossible to catch all of our own errors, but other writers generally will. Proofreading is expensive, so it’s really important to check the proofreader’s website out for recommendations, and also a great idea to google them to see what clients have to say. Asking your peers to read your work is also a help. There are a couple of tricks to do on your own though, like Google Read – get your computer to read portions of your work to you and you’ll pick up a lot of gremlins that way too.

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    2. Hello Sarah! In my opinion, if your work is very important, hiring a professional proofreading company is not a bad idea! There are many companies that provide this service, just google them. If you need a recommendation, try Pro-Papers. I worked with them last year. I was satisfied and the price was not very high.
      I hope that my comment will be useful to you)

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