Some call it proof reading, some copy editing, I call it checking what you’ve written again. As a follow up to my recent blog post 6 tips for checking what you’ve written, here are six more points I forgot to make first time around:
1. Learn from your mistakes
If you’re like me; human, fallible, sometimes lazy, you might find when you’re checking what you’ve written that you keep making the same mistakes time and again. For me it’s the use of one word when I mean another. The spell checker will let you have it, it’s a word after all, but it’s not the right word. I’m thinking about words like ‘effect’ and ‘affect’, ‘which’ and ‘that’, ‘lightening’ and ‘lightning’.
There’s a couple of things you can do – one is you can do some research online or in books about writing and try and figure out what you’re doing wrong and make a concerted effort to fix it. The other thing you can do is carry on being lazy and never learn. I recommend the former course of action if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.
I also make consistent typos. For instance when my sausage fingers are frantically flying over the keys ‘at the’ usually becomes ‘a the’. This is where autocorrect in Word can help immensely sorting stuff out as you type. Fill up the database with those things you know you keep mistyping. At work I mistype ‘regards’ a lot, so I’ve put that into the autocorrect options in Outlook.
2. Slow it down
The faster you read the more the inbuilt autocorrect function inside your brain will do the work for you. Write fast, read slow. You cannot spot errors if you are reading at normal speed. Slow it down (or try it backwards – see previous post).
3. Remove distractions
This is applicable to editing, proofing and creative writing of the first draft, or any draft for that matter. Have as boring a work space as possible and don’t try and watch TV while you’re writing. If you have to listen to music then listen to stuff you have heard time and again – your brain will zone it out. Some have it that music might even help you to concentrate on your writing. I often listen to music, but never stuff I haven’t already heard a zillion times already.
Put your phone on silent, or better still put it away in another room. Let people know that you don’t want to be disturbed. But on the flip side don’t use other people as an excuse not to get stuff done. It’s easy to blame other people disturbing you for your lack of willpower. Writers write, they don’t sit around talking about how they want to write if only they weren’t so distracted all the time by people making them drinks, cookies or asking them if they’re okay.
Checking your work arguably requires even more concentration that the normal writing process. So prepare yourself for a stint of isolation, but try chunking it out into manageable blocks. No-one said it was going to be exciting, and if you find it very boring then just manage that boredom by quick blasts of Netflix or mowing the lawn between stints of proofing.
4. You mock my style?
I recently had a battle with myself over how to write out the names of books, songs, films and albums. My blog is awash with inconsistency on this score and I’m not too bothered. However when it comes to novels or short stories I at least want to be consistent with my use of italics and speech marks.
I looked it up on the internet. See point 1 above. I found a style sheet and I am now applying that to my forthcoming collection of short stories that mentions a lot of stuff like books, films and song titles. If I didn’t stick to a style for this kind of thing the result would be a jarring unprofessional looking text. A messy blog post in other words!
Same goes for the use of hyphens and semi-colons. There’s lots of disagreement out there about when these should be used and when they shouldn’t. Make your own mind up after a little reading and stick to you chosen style.
Take this one step further and think about the tone of voice and vocabulary of characters. It helps if there is consistency there too. If you decided that a character frequently says ‘you know what I mean?’ then make sure they do, and don’t deviate to something like ‘see what I mean?’ and don’t let other characters steal the phrase unless they are taking the piss.
5. Eat, sleep, proof, repeat
Finished proofing? No you haven’t. Have a break and then start again from the beginning. Like Tom Cruise at the edge of tomorrow you need to loop-the-loop until you are 100% convinced that there are no more mistakes. Even then just check one last time, just to be on the safe side.
6. Get someone else to check it
At this point it’s a good idea to get someone else to read through what you’ve written. If they are a practiced grammarian or editor then lucky you – that’s great – especially if they will work for no more than a packet of Hobnobs or a pint. Always be clear on what you want them to do. Do you want them to comment on the story or do you want them to look for errors? If you’re feeling really cheeky ask them to do both.
I always give my ‘test readers’ a paper copy and ask them to make clear notes in the margin that I can read, but that we will also discuss face to face when I take them down the pub for a couple of drinks. I insist on honesty (and the beer seems to help). Sometimes this can be quite soul destroying, but you have to learn to take criticism as an opportunity for constant improvement.
Once they’ve had a bash and you’ve dealt with the fall out, then ask another good friend to do the same thing. The more the merrier as long as you can trust them to give you honest feedback.
If you haven’t got your story, novel or article to the point of wanting someone else to read it then you really need to take a step back and ask yourself why you’re not ready? If you can pinpoint something specifically wrong with what you’ve written then don’t procrastinate get the thing rewritten. If your hesitation is down to a lack of confidence in yourself as a writer then you really need to get people reading who can give you good feedback – it’s the only way you’ll know if your doubts are correct or if you’re just being silly.