Thursday, October 6, 2016

“The most productive and transformative part of writing a book”

Have you ever re-read something you’ve published and found a grammatical error, misspelled word, or punctuation error? You feel embarrassed, right? If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone—we’ve all found mistakes in our published pieces.

Why don’t we catch those errors before we hit “publish” and send it out into the world?

“Gestalt psychologists were the first to discover that our minds tend to see things not as they are, but as our minds think they should be,” writes Debra Hart May in Proofreading Plain and Simple. “The implications of this phenomenon for proofreading are enormous. Artist and author Carolyn Bloomer, in her book, Principles of Visual Perception, tells us, …‘Your mental “correcting” tends to tune out the very errors you are looking for….’”

A writer can find lots of help in editing and proofreading—from books, blogs, classes, writing workshops, critique partners. (There’s a difference between editing and proofreading. Learn more at Leah McClellan’s post, What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?)

Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward offers 21 tips in Do-It-Yourself Proofreading and Editing Tips. Each one is important but let me call your attention to her point 16: “Start building a collection of grammar books and writing resources so when you do run into questions (and you will), you have access to reliable and credible answers.” I say Amen! to that.

Related to that is Melissa’s point 21: “Make it your business to develop good grammar skills. Read up on grammar or subscribe to a blog that publishes grammar posts (like this one) to stay up to date on proper grammar.” Amen! to that, too.

Ask other writers which books they recommend for editing, proofreading, and grammar. I have the following on my bookshelf: Proofreading Plain and Simple, Keys for Writers, Correcting Common Errors in Writing, Woe Is I, and others.

Melissa’s is one of the most comprehensive lists I’ve seen recently so click over there to take in this rich resource. I printed it so I’d have it as a handy reference, and perhaps you’ll want do so, too.

But I want to add to Melissa’s list. Here are my tips:

  • Take a break. Don’t think about your manuscript. If possible, wait a week or two before you set eyes on it again.
  • Print your manuscript. Eyes see mistakes on a printed page that they miss on a computer screen.
  • Move away from your writing area to read your document—a different room of your house or office, in the back yard, a coffee shop, the beach, the library, or a park.

Here are more tips from Debra Hart May’s Proofreading Plain and Simple:

  • Print a portrait (…vertically-oriented) document in landscape (or horizontal) mode.
  • Print in a larger or less familiar font. (But choose a serif font… [because] they are easier to read.)
  • Work in small time increments—15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch, rest your eyes, and mentally engage from the task.

Editing and proofreading can be tedious tasks, but they are an important part of writing and publishing. If you edit and proofread well (and hire experts if necessary), you can publish a quality book.


  1. Proofreaders of the world, untie!

    **snort** Sorry, I couldn't resist. Yes, you're absolutely right about this. I often email my manuscript to my kindle and read it there. I find all sorts of things I missed while sitting at my desk staring at the screen.

    1. I love that: "Proofreaders of the world, untie!" :) And thanks for sharing your idea about emailing your manuscript to your Kindle to proofread it there. I hope others read your comment. What are you writing these days? Thanks for stopping by, Lia.