We hates proofreading, my precious. We hates it.
Banger, you work as an editor! You … you proofread for a living.
Well, yes. I do. However, before I had this job, long before, I was a writer. My words were my darlings, and proofreaders smeared nasty red pen all over them.
We hates it, my precious.
Until we didn’t. What I found was that as I became more accomplished as a writer, I started to understand the nuances and niceties of what my proofreaders were doing for me.
Yes, sometimes they were wrong. They were wrong, wrong, wrong wrongity wrong wrong like the wrong person becoming the wrong mayor of Wrongsville.
More often, they were right.
What I realized is that many times, my proofreaders made the same changes that I would have made myself had I looked at my pieces with fresh eyes. The things that I didn’t spot–because my work was too close to me–they saw straight away. They saw typos and clumsy wording, and they highlighted things that I would have seen if I had time to put my writing away, then come back to it afresh.
Why, Banger, are you telling us this?
Look, I’m going to be completely honest:
I make mistakes. I make mistakes on this site. I type things, and then come back to them a week later and smack myself in the head and wince and hope that my readers saw what a horrible, heinous thing I did in my own prose. I’ve been there, my friends, and it seems that sometimes I live there. I’m building a blanket fort, and I have crayons. Come visit.
If you’re a writer, you’re there too.
As much as it pains writers to say this, we need proofreaders at the very least, and editors if we want to get further. We need people to rub red ink on our pages until they look like they’re bleeding so we can come in and patch up the wounds. It hurts, and it’s painful, and it sucks.
And it makes us better writers.
My mother asks me why I edit for doctoral candidates. “Shouldn’t they be able to write by now?”
That’s not the point. They can write. Writers can write. Authors can write. They can be good writers, but still make mistakes, or have inconsistencies, or fumble on the keyboard, or have their brains flake out on a word and write cucumber when they mean to write condominium, and they might not notice. Because all the diligence in the world won’t make our prose new to us once it came out of our brains. We need fresh eyes, and different viewpoints.
That’s why I edit for doctoral candidates, and for indie authors, and for business writers, and for other students. And that’s why I sit down and pass my pages and a pen over to someone I trust enough to do the same for me.
I’m not saying that you can’t be perfect without an editor. I’m just saying that I haven’t managed it yet myself, and none of my authors or writers or students have either.
However, there are things you can do to self-proofread
The first and most important is to put the writing down and let it age. Let time pass and Thorin sing about gold, then come back to your writing and give it another shot. You may find things.
If you don’t have time to do that, the next best thing (in my opinion) is to read your writing aloud, slowly. You will stumble at times; pay attention to those. Often those are the places where your brain had a hiccough because it was trying to parse something that wasn’t quite fluid and eloquent. If you falter, highlight, and come back to it after that first, slow read.
You can read your writing backwards. However, this is only good for catching very basic errors, like typos. Don’t rely upon it.
You can record your writing and play it back. Yes, I know, ugh. But it can be helpful.
Of course, if you need more than that, you can get friends and loved ones to read your work for you, although that can be nerve-wracking. If you’re an academic, check to see if your institution has a writing center or writing lab, as they’re often free of charge and available on very short notice. Or you can hire a proofreader. (Hi, I’m available.) However, whatever you do, try not to hate it too much, because it will help you become a better writer. Anything that makes you examine your work will do that, but this sort of feedback can be a powerful tool for good. (My precious.)