Monday, October 25, 2010

Proof-weeding

Proofreading is a tedious task not unlike weeding a garden. The writer and gardener first write and plant, then redouble their efforts by rewriting, editing, watering, fertilizing, and so on until the writing is perfected and the flowers are blooming their heads off.

But the writer and gardener can't stand back and admire their accomplishments until they weed their work. I must have checked and rechecked my manuscript from beginning to end at least a dozen times before sending it to the printer, and I still missed a few weeds--rogue words that somehow escaped the delete key or typos undetected by spell-check.

Friends and family members, worried they might hurt my feelings, were almost apologetic when telling me about mistakes they found. My reaction was always the same: hold onto the nearest piece of furniture, whack myself on the side of the head with the butt of my hand, write down what they told me, including the page number if they could remember it, and manage to produce a genuine, although squeaky thank-you (all of this while trying not to scream, even though I had just stuck a knife in my chest).

At this point the writer-gardener analogy ends, because the gardener can revisit his garden every day if he wants, pulling out old weeds or new growth as needed; whereas words printed on pages and bound into books are there forever. For-ev-er! I couldn't go through the 500 books stacked in my garage and Wite-Out the extra words or add a letter here and there. My only hope was that the tendency for readers to comprehend meaning VS individual words or letters would prevail most of the time.

So . . . if you are a self-publisher doing your own proofreading, here are a few recommendations:

(1) Always do your proofreading from a printed manuscript. Mistakes seem to show up better on a printed page than a computer screen.
(2) Use a red pen or a highlighter to identify changes.
(3) Put a paper clip at the top of each page containing a change. Dogears can be missed when flipping through multiple pages to make the changes you noted on paper in your electronic document.
(4) Use spell-check. It will even point out inadvertent extra spaces if you have them. Extra spaces can also be checked by clicking on the paragraph (show/hide) icon.
(5) Ask one detail-oriented acquaintance (probably not a close friend) with a strong background in English to read your manuscript twice--once for content, once for mistakes.
(6) Give yourself plenty of time to do your own final read. Since you have almost memorized your entire manuscript at this point, you will have a tendency to skim.

Or . . . if you can afford it, have your manuscript professionally proofread. I did a quick check and found rates (for polished prose, not rough drafts) from $1.25 to $9.00 per page.

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