Proofread Like A Boss In Nine Steps
For your work to be on point you need to not only write like a boss but proofread like a boss, too.
One of the biggest criticisms fired at the urban fiction genre is that the books are littered with mistakes. Let’s set aside for a moment whether or not we think that’s true. Let’s think about why your writing being error free is so important.
You want your readers to completely forget that they are even reading. You want them so absorbed in what’s happening in your book that it doesn’t just feel as good as a movie, it feels even better – because your writing and your reader’s imagination working together will always be better than the movies. To achieve this, you can’t afford to have them distracted, not even for a moment, by something out of place. Some mistakes, misspelled words etc, won’t always affect the understanding but if your reader stops to think “Oh, that should be their instead of there” then you will have broken the illusion that the reader is right there in your story.
Bear in mind that many of your readers and reviewers may be authors like you. This means that they are likely to have a good eye for detail. And because they write, they will be looking at your work more critically. They can’t help it, they might not even realise it, they are just looking for ways to improve their own writing style. So things will jump out at them if they aren’t correct.
If you want really good reviews (who doesn’t) then you have to maintain the illusion for the reader that they are right there in the story while it’s happening.
I’ve had to give up on a book before because the first page had more than five mistakes. And that page was only about two thirds of a page because it had a chapter heading. Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t just jack in a book because of a few mistakes. I kept reading the next five pages or so of that book and the situation was the same. Given the importance of getting the first fifty pages absolutely perfect, to hook the reader in, I feared what would happen once the author considered me on the hook. There was just no way I was going to be able to focus on the story, let alone enjoy it.
Mark Twain said “The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning-bug & the lightning”.
It happens to everyone – a well known university, quoting the above, twice misspelled lightning as lightening – but we still have to get it right to protect the illusion for the reader.
The answer is not to just proofread, but proofread like a boss. It’s not a casual affair, this is the last line of quality control for your work before it is read by your many readers. If you’re just starting out, and don’t have many readers yet, don’t tell yourself quality isn’t so important until you have established yourself. Doing so will be so much harder without quality writing that stands up to the criticisms so often hurled at urban fiction.
Follow these nine steps to proofread like a boss:
- Leave it alone for a while. This is the single most effective thing you can do. You’ve been living and breathing this manuscript for weeks, months even. You know it inside out. This has the effect of preventing you from reading your own writing. What you are actually doing is reading your own mind – you won’t see the errors or gaps because they don’t exist in your own mind. So set the work aside for as long as you can without going back to it at all. A week, or maybe even a month if possible for the final proofreading of the whole manuscript. Build that into your writing schedule. For smaller parts, like a chapter, leave it a day or two. When you come back you will see it with new eyes.
- Read it in a different format. Try a different font, a different size, a different device, even on paper. This will help reduce the mindreading effect. You are more likely to see your work for what it is.
- Read it aloud. This is another way to get out of your head and onto the page. It’s also highly recommended when it comes to checking that the text flows, especially for dialogue.
- Read it backwards. No, I’m not crazy. Go ahead, read it from right to left. Reading it backwards makes you focus on each word individually and you are more likely to spot an error this way because it gets you out of your head and on the page again.
- Use multiple spell checkers. But don’t trust them unquestionably. They will rarely be able to tell you when you’ve used an incorrect word despite it being spelled correctly – their vs. there, your vs. you’re, and so on. And the reason why I say to use multiple spell checkers is that each may be programmed slightly differently and may pick up something different as a result. The same goes for the grammar checkers that accompany them.
- Use a dictionary and trust it. Check your word usage by looking things up in a dictionary. Do you really mean to say “he was bear chested” or did you mean “he was bare chested”? Maybe that’s an easy example but be aware that there may be several words that all sound the same but mean different things. Trust the dictionary because that will absolutely tell you the meaning of the word you are using.
- Look for one problem at a time. In each of your initial proofreads of chapters, look for one thing at a time (it’s not just about spelling) – sentence structure, word choice, spelling, punctuation, and finally accuracy (facts, figures, proper names). Of course, prevention is better than the cure – so always try to get them right from the start.
- Keep a list. You will have things you know you are in the habit of getting wrong. Keep a list of them and know to look out for them. Go a step further and use the power of the find function in your word processing app to search your text for instances of these errors.
- Ask for help. Finally, when you have done all of the above you can consider passing your work to someone to proofread. Why not before? You don’t want them weighed down by all of the things you could have corrected yourself. You want them to focus on what they can see but you can’t. And, when possible, get someone to proofread your work that really does know what they are looking for. I’ve seen too many books still with mistakes, even though they claim to have been both proofread and edited – so if you are paying for a service be especially careful about what you’re paying for.
A great resource for proofreading is other authors. If you are looking for another author to proofread your work then consider dropping into the forums. Ask there for help with proofreading. The forums are also a great place for many other things.