Novels, short stories, articles, even blog posts, all need a thorough proofread and edit before submitting or publishing. Of course, if you’re writing a novel, then it really is worth considering hiring an editor – see my previous post here. However, everyone needs to edit and proof their work at some stage. This can be a tricky job and one that many writers detest – they want to get on with the fun part, the actual writing, and for them editing and proofreadinging is a pain. It may well be (although I have to say I really enjoy it, even when I’m editing and proofreading my own work), but there are ways to make the chore a little less onerous.
Clear desk – clear mind
Make sure that when you sit down to edit or proofread that it is your sole focus. Clear everything else off your desk, close emails and the internet, put your phone somewhere else and focus on the task in hand. If you’re distracted, you’ll lose the flow of the work, or your place in the text.
Give yourself a break
Editing and proofreading take a lot of concentration and focus. It’s impossible to do either for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Don’t try to work for longer than thirty minutes in one stretch. Get up, walk around, make a cup of tea (and have a biscuit). Give your brain a five or ten minute respite. But don’t check Facebook or Twitter or your emails. You’ll just get sucked into wasting an hour.
To spellcheck or not to spellcheck?
Spellcheck is a really useful, if much maligned, tool. Do use it, but don’t rely on it. And when running a check, don’t drift off and end up changing things you don’t want to change because you’re not really looking and you just click the ‘change’ button automatically! Remember, spellcheck isn’t an alternative to editing and proofreading; you still need to go through everything yourself.
Many people find it difficult to spot errors on a screen. Print off a hard copy of your manuscript and use a pen to correct errors.
As you are working through your manuscript make a list of any errors that crop up again and again. Do you use ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ for example? Mixing up ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’? Too many unnecessary dialogue tags creeping in? (See my post here.) Is there a word you overuse? (I know I use the word ‘really’ far too much, in novels, blog posts, even emails!) Jot them down and you’ll know what to keep an eye out for, and you’ll also learn what to avoid when you’re writing your next masterpiece.
As discussed in my previous post here, we become so familiar with our work that our brain fills in the gaps for us. We know what that sentence is supposed to say, so our brain glosses over it, stopping us from seeing errors that a reader will pick up on instantly. One way to avoid this is to read your manuscript backwards. That way your brain doesn’t know what is coming next and it’s easier to spot mistakes.
Read out loud
I know lots of people are uncomfortable doing this, but it really helps. Reading out loud helps you to spot all sorts of errors including typos, misuse of commas or missing commas, problems with flow and awkwardness. It also helps immensely with checking dialogue to make sure it sounds natural (see my post on writing dialogue here).
I’d love to know your editing and proofreading tips; do share them by leaving a comment.
I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.