Monday, November 30, 2015

A word about proof reading

Now that National Novel Writing Month has come to a close, a lot of you will turn to the lovely task of revising and then proof reading. (if you're not quite at The End, well, not to worry. Here's a pep talk from the Fabulous Bill Cameron)

One of the things I've learned in writing this blog is to allow enough time for proof reading. It's almost a truism that the posts I write the closest to deadline are the ones with the clunkiest writing and all too often, the ones with words that have gone astray. Missing letters. Wrong meaning. Yanno...those insidious little HomonymTypoFuckers.

My most recent insight was to make sure to allow at LEAST a day or two for the Week in Review. Not only is it longer than most other posts, it's usually got more "moving parts" in that I cut and paste quotes and jpgs in that post more so than in the weekly posts. In other words, lots more places for stuff to go wrong wronger wrongest.

I started last week's review (11/29/15) on the Friday before I needed to post. I worked on it for a while on Saturday morning, then again Saturday night. On the Sunday morning before it was due to go live, I re-read and found three typos.  AIEEE!!

On WIR posts I've started on Sunday morning? Well, let's just say I've been known to go back a couple days later and fix some of the more egregious errors that y'all forgot to mention to me (remember, telling me about homonyms/spelling errors is MUCH appreciated. Just don't correct spelling mistakes made by the other commenters.)

What this means to you: allow enough time to proofread. Don't think it's a matter of days for a novel length ms. I figure you can proof about 5000 words a day at MOST, and fewer is often better. Reading any faster and your eye skips the same kind of stuff I missed on that WIR (buy/but, he/the.)

When I need to proof read contracts, I always print it out on paper and use a straight edge to keep my eye from moving too quickly. I look up after every paragraph to break the rhythm.  You'd be shocked and appalled to hear the number of typos I find in boilerplate contracts (ie contracts that should be the same each time.)

Revising is where you earn your chops as a writer. Proofreading is where you show me your level of meticulousness.  There are only a few qualities I value in writers more than being meticulous.


Michael Seese said...

To summarize:

A "word" about proofreading....


Laura Mary said...

The best advice I've ever heard was to read your work aloud (or invest in some snazzy software like Julie, and have your work read to you) I still find it cringeworthy to do, but good grief does it show up the flaws! Not just typos but weird phrasing, accidental tongue twisters and the stupid amount of times I've missed a letter off the end of 'then'! I swear I have a sticky 'n' key!

Crittias said...

Reading aloud, especially to someone else, is a fantastic way to proofread.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

If you can let your work percolate for a couple of weeks after finishing any draft or revision, I find that helps a ton. I find, like Janet, the shorter time I spend on proofing or less time between revision and proof, the more typos go out and bite me in the ass.

I really do think hearing your work read out loud is very helpful.

Julie, what is the name of your snazzy software?

I have been unable to capture a lovely Englishman or Scotsman to read my book out loud to me. Sadness.

Susan said...

Using a ruler is a great idea. I can't count how many times I've proofread only to find myself getting sucked back into the story.

There was a great article a while ago about how missing typos and homonyms actually means we're smarter. When we're writing, our brains are focused on finding and conveying meaning, which is a high-concept skill, so the brain naturally fills in for the errors. I think that goes to show that proofreading and editing is a different skill set from writing in that it uses a different part of the brain.

Edited To Add: Here's an article about typos and the brain: "Why do we make mistakes? Blame your brain, the original autocorrector" . This isn't the one I read, but it has the same concept.

Donnaeve said...

More power to the NANO writers!

It is interesting how our brains will flit right over mistakes as if they don't exist. Too many times I've sent stuff off and only then do I suddenly SEE a glaring mistake. Why is that I wonder???

This is also why I wish the comments area here had an edit button. At least I can trash the thing if it's really, really bad.

I gotta say, the WIR sounds like a boatload of work. So worthwhile for us, but makes me think you might wish you'd never started that!

Tony Clavelli said...

After all the heavy revisions, and the read-aloud revisions (very useful), I had a lot of success putting my book on my Kindle. There must be something psychological about the book being in that context where I do my pleasure reading that really sharpened my ability to find problem spots. Some my eyes can scan over an error on my word processor but then stop dead when it's on my kindle.

The obvious problem with that is that you can't fix it on the spot unless you're sitting by your computer. So I have to write them down on a bedside notepad and go back to it later to edit. Because of this, it's best as "Am I really about to send this manuscript?" kind of proofreading. Like a victory lap where occasionally you have to adjust your hair for the cameras.

DLM said...

Crittias, yes! Though it does tend to louse up my readings, because I have to deal with the errors in some way in real time, or forget where they were and risk failing to fix them ... :)

Susan, yes also on getting sucked back in. Great article, thank you for the link! Our brains are odd and wondrous all at once.

At my age, I've learned my habitual bugaboos, so I am able to keep my eyes peeled as I go. Even so, I found a typo in the inline first pages included in most queries at some point well after I'd thought the query was finished and ready (and the novel too). It astounds me when these things happen. And yet, it doesn't. SIGH.

NANO bewilders my wee and paltry little brain.

S.P. Bowers said...

Very pertinent, thanks. I'm about to start some proofreading before sending in an R&R to an agent. Really want to get it right.

Colin Smith said...

Along with what Susan said, I think we're all aware of the brain's amazing ability to auto-correct. And the more we read, the better our brains are at converting what was written into what the author intended to write without even hesitating. It makes sense, then, that we would do this just as adeptly for our own work as anyone else's.

Read aloud. Have someone (or something) read your work to you. Read back to yourself at least at half the speed you normally read, making sure the spelling of each word and the grammar of each sentence are correct--or at least as you intended.

And congrats to those who attempted NaNo this year! Even if you didn't make your 50K, hopefully you gained from the experience. :)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Great advice.

I took Angela James Before You Hit Send editing class in October. The first lesson was all about gaining distance from the writing. Read aloud, use a text to speech program, read on a tablet, change the font, even the color. And limit editing time. Text to speech works for me. If you have a mac it's incorporated. Highlight any text on your screen and clic "alt+s". I think you have to set it up in system preferences.

I did NaNo this year and loved it. I found I like writing on a deadline.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Susan, thanks for the article. As you say writing and editing are entirely different disciplines.

Angie, I am investing in a Mac. How useful.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

One thing I'm going to try for my next big revising/editing/proofing session is to print out the ms in a bigger and different font. We get so used to seeing our words at a certain size, in a certain way - this is supposed to trigger our brains to see it differently.

(I wish I could remember where I heard this tip, but as I am emerging bleary-eyed - yet victorious! - from the NaNo wilderness, the best I can hope for is that this comment actually makes some sense...)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

NaNoWriMo has come to a close? I have until midnight to write my final 8500 words, thank you ^^

(Okay, so it's more like 6 when people show up to play D&D tonight)

(I started late. I both don't know why I did this to myself and feel somewhat satisfied that I made such a good attempt. And I might still make the 50k. I did a 6k day yesterday.)

But I've heard tales of people who finished their NaNo masterpiece and then sent it out in December and it makes my blood run cold. When I've done my writing workshop, I've explained NaNoWriMo a little bit as "National First Draft Writing Month" didn't make as good an acronym. What I produce in a NaNo is (what seems to me to be) a workable first draft. The novel I'm querying now was written over two Camp NaNo's a few years ago. That I read through and edited and changed, etc. I don't even know how many times. Had people read it. Read it again. Etc. I'm pretty happy with it by this point. When it was done, it sat untouched for six months to "cure".

(did anybody else read James Clavell's Shogun? Remember how Anjin-san wanted to hang rabbits or pheasants or something to cure, and the people around him were so horrified at another of his barbarisms?)

Anonymous said...

I've edited and revised FAR RIDER so much I grew to despise the story. I let it rest for weeks before reading it in between revisions. You truly do need the distance. Then, I printed it out in a different font and read it in a different location than my work area.

I had my crew read it. A commenter here who doesn't read fantasy at all read it. Thank you, Joseph. This can backfire. Someone else offered to read it. I'd read her manuscript, so she was going to help me with my "bloated" word count. Whoa, Nellie. Sometimes people who don't read fantasy don't realize world building is important. Small events that seem like throw away scenes are actually foundation for something that comes later. FR has a very complex plot with a great deal of interweaving. No, I can't just get rid of this character. I don't ever have someone coincidentally having some skill that saves the day later, so there's a logical explanation for how or why people do things.

Good beta readers are hard to find, but they are worth their weight in gold.

So, I've revised for the "last" time. I printed it out. Beta readers have gone over it with a fine tooth comb. I'm done, right?

Oh, no, mon ami. I had to lick that calf again.

I decided to record myself reading it, but I hate the sound of my own voice. Odd how that happens. At Surrey I was on the elevator with Jack Whyte and several others. As usual, I was chatting with people. When I got off, Jack said, "That woman has the most beautiful voice." A friend couldn't wait to tell me.

Well, that's awesome, but I still don't like listening to myself. Thankfully, I had found Ivona. I use British English Amy. You can order a 30 day trial version and also try out the voices on your own work before you buy. I also like Welsh English Geraint, but I went with Amy.

I slowed down the reading speed and read along on a hard copy while Amy read it aloud.

Holy rolling armadillos! I couldn't believe how many mistakes there were. Add to that things that sounded off to the ear. Then there were the times I realized another word would be more efficient somewhere. I'm always conscious of Mark Twain's advice about the right word.

It's amazing what a difference it makes to hear the book read to you. My son offered to record it for me. He has a deep, pleasant voice with a mild Texas accent, so it would have been an interesting listen, but he's a perfectionist. It would have taken him forever. Besides, there's that sex scene and the penisectomies. We decided Ivona would be better.

Anonymous said...

To show you how the mind auto corrects, read this passage.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Now, imagine zooming through a manuscript with 120,000 words and only one typo every one or two pages. It doesn't seem like much, but it's enough to be very jarring and make you look like an amateur. Spell check is useful, but it isn't foolproof.

Leah B said...

I prefer to do targetted revisions. I'll ctrl+f and highlight, say, all the adverbs in a section, then jump from highlight to highlight. Next one might be you're/your or there/they're/their, and so on. That type of revising tends to work better for me than a blanket "I'm going to take these 1500 words and make them not shit".

Also, highly recommend finding a critique partner. Mine is the best thing ever, and I adore her. She underlines all my awkward phrasing, flags where I've made massive leaps in logic, and draws smiley faces when my jokes land. She's also great for talking through problems in the plot or if I get stuck.

nightsmusic said...

Tony, you do know you can annotate while you read on your Kindle though and just page through after you're done for the notes and things? Much easier for me than trying to keep notes and pages straight.

I can proof until I'm blue in the face and there will still be mistakes. My brain fills in all the gaps as others have mentioned, and refuses to think I can make errors. Nice brain, but a bit conceited!

Adib Khorram said...

I too am in the "Read it aloud!" camp. I set myself a goal of 10% of the manuscript per day (only 60,000 words so not like it was a huge thing), which ended up being an hour of reading aloud in the morning and an hour of reading aloud at night.

And I like the idea of printing it up in a different font. When I write, I write in single-spaced Helvetica, but when I print, I print in double-space Times. I do that because that's how agents are going to see it—but I guess it's nice to see it in a different form myself, too.

I tried doing the text-to-speech thing, but I found it really unnerving, because the inflections were missing and everything sounded alien to me. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact my System Voice was set to Trinoids...

The Sleepy One said...

Just wanted to note that Bill Cameron's profile photo is hilarious. It's not the professional headshot the shark mentioned in her clean-up-your-web-presence post, but it's charming and works.

Tony Clavelli said...

nightmusic--I've never used the note function on my kindle. It's a pretty old model, so I have to manually click every direction (no touch). But I've got the app on my phone, which may save a lot of time!

I'm interested in trying the text-to-speech that Angie and others mentioned above. Just to see, I ran through a page of my current MS with "Alex," whose reading style I don't approve of, but already found it really does help catch some things. Definitely worth adding to my toolbox.

nightsmusic said...

Tony, try it on the Kindle for PC app then. That's even easier because you have your keyboard right in front of you but the 'book' is formatted for an eReader just like the hold in your hand kind :) I've tried it both that way and on my Samsung tablet (don't have a Kindle reader) though I have a bluetooth keyboard for the tablet, but it does make things very easy that way.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I wish I were at the point where it's time for me to use these hints. I like that straight-edge method. I need to remember that (ties another string around my finger).

I did do Angie's change-fonts-and-size method and Leah's targeted-search-and-find method when I thought I was done with my story a while back. Then I fell into the plot holes in the middle of my WiP.

Julie: thank you for linking Ivona again. Sex scenes and penisectomies? okeydokey....

Carolynnwith2Ns said...


Christina Seine said...

I haven't been able to do much writing lately due to an overload of family drama, which sucks. It's been one thing after another lately. But it's interesting how time can allow one to see a mistake that's been glossed over multiple times. Especially when you're querying and you get a response back that includes your original query - one that you've proofed and proofed and proofed and then sent to bunches of agents and BOOM you spot a "HomonymTypoFucker." (Best. Word. Ever.)

I hate homonyms. I am rabidly homonymophobic. They get me every time.


I'm also in the read it aloud camp. And the find-as-many-beta-readers-as-possible camp.

Still ... true story: years ago I worked as a reporter at the Southern Star newspaper in Ozark, Alabama. This is where Fort Rucker the army base is located. Now as you can imagine, the fort holds a special place in the hearts of all who are stationed there, especially in the summer when the heat and humidity are in the double digits. So imagine how many phone calls I got when I typo'd the name. I didn't transpose the F and the R; oh no, I went with alliteration. Fort Fucker. The only reason I wasn't fired is because A) three other people had proofed it and missed it and B) I was the only reporter. It was a small paper.

Anonymous said...

>There are only a few qualities I value in writers more than being meticulous

What are the other qualities? Are they qualities that can be cultivated? Can they be faked well enough? How well can you determine these qualities from a query?

Is this one more thing nascent writer should worry about?

Amy Schaefer said...

My daughters stomp over to me in an angry huff when they find spelling errors in their books. I remember doing the same thing as a kid - I'd whip out my trusty Bic and correct the mistake whether the book was my own or belonged to the library. It offended my tiny, orderly soul.

Now that I've battled the Proofreading Monster myself for so long, I have more sympathy for the many sets of eyeballs that read and reread a manuscript (forwards, backwards, sideways), trying to make it perfect.

But I still keep a pen nearby when I read. Just in case.

Mark Ellis said...

I'm happy to pay two professional editors to tag-time the continuity, proofread and line edit on my manuscripts. If I mention a historical date and make passing mention of the weather, they look back and check to make sure it my mild wasn't actually freezing. Every comma is accounted for. This is fun-money for me, a present to myself.

Lucie Witt said...

Julie, thank you for the Ivona link. I'm intrigued!

And congrats to anyone who finished NaNo!

Mark Ellis said...

"Tag-team" See?

S.D.King said...

Need help from the Reiders.

OK - this is it - I am sending my query to the Query Shark for shredding. I have read the archives until I am cross-eyed, but now that I am ready to submit, I can't locate the email address to which I should send!

Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

SD King: the address is "QueryShark at gmail dot com"

And, NaNoWriMo has now drawn to a close for me. 50,056 words. I wrote 8600 words today. The draft isn't done, but the month sure is.

S.D.King said...

Thank you, Jennifer!

And congrats on NaNoWriMo! Such a feat!

I treasure this community.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Like The Sleepy One said. What is that thing on Bill Cameron's head anyway? I've wondered for some time. And if we're talking professional head shots, I want Jeff Somers's photographer.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, there's actually only one sex scene, but there are a few penisectomies. I know, I'm a horrible person. A rather vocal critic of Diana Gabaldon's has mentioned a few times the author should have psychological evaluation due to the horrible things she does to her characters. I can't wait to see what readers like her think about me.

There is a list somewhere of villainous words a writer should excise from their work: very, that, feel, when, as, just, then, only, etc. Some people advocate getting rid of all adjectives, adverbs, and dialogue tags. Frankly, I prefer moderation in all things.

Today is Mark Twain's birthday.

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."--Mark Twain

Anonymous said...


You're welcome. Try out the different voices. There are only a few that are really good. Amy and Geraint worked best for me. Surprisingly, there is inflection in the voice, which surprised me. It does a good enough job you do almost feel you're listening to an audio book.

Re NaNo. I didn't get much done, about 18,000 words. Jack Whyte gave some advice in his writing a series class and then I spoke to him later and we chatted about writing historicals. Pick your time period and write down all the things that happened in history in one color font. Then go back and wedge in events from your fictional characters in the timeline in a different color font.

So, that's what I've been doing. It's already affected the story. Events I wanted to include will have to come in a later book.

Doing the timeline is sound advice for whatever you're writing. Even fantasy unless your world doesn't have seasons and time passage.

BJ Muntain said...

Agree completely with Julie about 'villainous words' to 'excise'.

I prefer studying those words in context, seeing if the writing would be stronger without them - or with different words or wordings - and then decide what works best for the purpose.

While 'just', for example, is often overused and unnecessary, if it's used strategically, it can be provocative.

Re: Bill Cameron's photo: He's wearing one of those winter hats that mimic a squirrel's (maybe bear's?) head. Very common among schoolchildren. But it's the dignity in his manner that makes it so funny.

Janice Grinyer said...

Ah, the bane of writers everywhere. Im so terrified of mistakes, but they keep HAPPENING. The only thing that encourages me to continue writing is the ability to proofread, but only while sober or not stressed. That and fitting in playing Scrabble with family members. Lifelong playing will at least help with the spelling...Now for grammar...we just found out this past weekend that Cards Against Humanity does not help out with grammar ...

BTW Speaking of, had fun family reunions the end of this month, with the best brined turkey ever. Now Im stuck in LaCrosse, WI, waiting for my Chinese takeout to arrive (food, that is). Trying to catch up on all of last week's Shark posts...due to the snowstorm that prevents me from driving home, it looks like I will have time to do so!

Lance said...

Congratulations to the NaNoWriMowers! A whirlwind of words.

I once pounced gleefully on typos and errors in books, but no longer. Proofreading is hard. In addition to reading out loud to my first reader, I read the ms backwards, one sentence at a time. Harder to get caught up in the narrative, but it still happens. Still miss stuff.

Julie, what a great demonstration of how our minds take in the meaning. No wonder the typos and homonyms (as modified) and other villainous words get through.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

1. I love that trick with the rule. I shall have to use it with my other favourite proofing trick:

2. Reading backwards. Yep, all my mss (especially galleys) get read backwards at least once. Prevents me from getting lost in the story.

3. My writing software yWriter features a text reader. I can select the voice (including accent) and the speed.

4. I once started a rumour that authors consider it good luck to have a typo in a published novel--similar to how the Amish deliberately leave one flaw in a quilt. I figured if we could get the world to believe this, they'd lay off nitpicking that one error the author, the beta-readers, the agent, the acquisitions editor, the copyeditor, the proofer and the layout editor and the typesetter all missed.

Feel free to perpetuate this rumour.

DLM said...

Amy Schaefer, I do this too. I also comment, point to relevant references on other pages, and actually edit sometimes.

Jennifer, 8600 words ... my hat, she is off to you!!


Janice, look at it this way - mistakes aren't happening, PRODUCTION is happening. Mistakes are just a part of the process, and a small part. You can lick 'em all. And yay for a week's worth of posts to enjoy.

Unknown said...

5000 per day. I guess some days are like that. I spent the whole afternoon editing one 750 times--"would." Janet are you aware of tools or cheat sheets listing these kinds of vague/non action words/verbs like "would," "could," "that" "is/was" we should be ferreting our of our MS? Thanks.

Pepper Smith said...

I've heard changing the size of the text, the font, and the color of the text. I also know someone who reads the manuscript backwards in order to catch those errant typos.

The problem really is that we know what words are supposed to be there, so we read over what's actually there without really seeing it. Time and distance, and as many other sets of eyes as you can bribe or drag screaming into proofreading for you are essential.

Unknown said...

As a helpful proofreading tool goes nothing beats rounding up a bunch of folks to pitch in. You have each person take the role of a character, narrator, and start reading. Of course first person narratives can be tricky, it'll work just fine.

JaneSmith said...

In my view, proofreading it's a not a bad idea. I would like to try it next time. You can get it if you really want.