12 Easy Ways to Become a Skillful Proofreader

proofreadingWe have become a nation of skimmers.

We buzz through emails: delete, delete, save, delete.

We flip through social media: scroll, like, heart, share.

What does that do to proofreader skills? It’s a train wreck waiting to happen. Three minutes after your eBook goes live on Kindle you spot the first typo in the “Look Inside” feature. Ten minutes later you’ve gotten a one-star review: “Doesn’t this Bozo have a copy editor?”

To which your response may be, “Yes, but she’s out to lunch with Oprah’s chef and Jillian Michaels, the personal trainer.”

Welcome to the real world of self-editing.

But there are some ways you can train yourself to be a better proofreader.

First, recognize that we all make typing mistakes. There is a reason why the backspace, according to Microsoft, is the third most used key on the keyboard.

We make mistakes for a multitude of reasons: First, remember that in the course of writing several drafts of a full-length novel, you may put hundreds of thousands of words on the page. Some of these will be the wrong words.

Then there are brain-finger coordination problems: If you type-when-tired or worse, type-without-a-break, you’ll find “stutters” such as duplicate letters or duplicate words appearing.

And consider the mechanical issues such as sticky keys and cursors with a mind of their own, inserting your cut-and-paste in the middle of the wrong paragraph.

So when it comes to proofreading your work, don’t be insulted if there are a lot of errors. Accept that you’ll need to put out some effort to catch typos.

STRATEGIES THAT WORK

Luckily I’m a mystery writer, so I’ve got a lot of experience developing strategies to help me solve this particular “crime.”

Let me share a few strategies that I use.

1. Look for patterns of frequent typing errors

In order to change bad typing habits before they kick in, keep a small notebook at hand, and note when you backspace to correct an error. Look for patterns of errors: the kinds you are prone to make.

Or, turn off spell check for several pages, then recheck spelling with it on. What errors do you find? Those are the ones to be watchful for as you revise your drafts.

2. Trick your brain

One reason why mistakes jump out of a manuscript to a reader is that they are looking at them for the first time. Whereas to you, those sentences are old friends. You’ve seen them dozens of times!

So change what you are looking at. Use a different font, use double spacing of lines rather than single space. Transfer the manuscript to your Kindle reader and read it there. Print out a hard copy and proof it that way. It will be much easier on your eyes!

Try changing the music you’re listening to. I have one playlist for rough drafts, another for revisions, yet a third (a slow, Baroque one) for proofreading.

Change locations: if you always write at your desk with a favorite cup of tea, do your proofreading in a quiet library reading room.

3. Spell check is not always your friend

Let me give you two examples: first, the hyphen in a compound adjective such as “ten-cent price” may not be caught by spell check, as “ten” and “cent” are perfectly good words, correctly spelled.

Second, watch out for flagged duplicates such as “the the.” It’s nice that Word catches these for you, but if you really meant to type “in the,” deleting the first “the” without adding the “in” introduces an entirely new error.

4. Be aware of your reading speed

Surfing the internet? Warp speed! We typically spend about 59 seconds deciding whether a site is worthwhile, before making the decision to stay or leave.

Proofreading on the other hand is agonizingly slow. We aren’t worried about seeing the forest for the trees, we are down to the twigs on the branches. We are searching for the bug on the twig, the eyelash on the bug.

One way to slow down is to read backwards. Start at the end of your manuscript and read forward, one sentence at a time. I keep a favorite blue plastic ruler, just for this purpose. You’ll be surprised what you’ll catch.

5. Keep your keyboard clean

If you have pets, break out the vacuum occasionally to siphon the cat hair, dog slobber, and mouse lint out of your computer. Cleaner keyboards will cut down on sticky keys and stutters.

6. Watch your posture

I like to compose sitting in my easy chair with said cat under my elbow and my laptop at a rakish tilt. Guess what that does to wrist-on-pressure-pad inadvertent cursor jumps. I pay for my comfort when it comes to error counts!

7. Do macro-corrections

The key here is to look for mistakes, not the right words. For example, do a find-and-replace for double spaces after sentences, for quotation marks before a period or before a comma. Double commas or double periods are not uncommon when your revision takes out a word or switches the order of phrases within a sentence. The Word find-and-replace can spot these quickly for you.

If a character has the name Sandy, the first time you spell it “Sandi” mark the mistaken spelling down to do a quick find-and-replace on the mistaken spelling when you edit your manuscript.

8. Little words can be tricky

It’s not that we don’t know how to speak English. We do! The problem arises in multiple drafts when we change tense and don’t add that final “d,” or change nouns and miss transforming the “a” to an “an” or vice-versa.

Be especially vigilant for prepositions: they are so tiny that the brain sometimes skips right over them. For example, keep an eagle eye out for missing prepositions such as  “to,” “of,’” or “in.”

Spell check can’t catch those missing words—that’s your job!

9. Set the timer

You do have a timer, right? Either Pomodoro on your computer or a hand model set way across the room so you have to get up to shut the darn thing off to give yourself a break when you are proofreading.

And once up, walk outside for five minutes, climb a flight of stairs, breathe deeply, or do a few toe-touches. The brain needs oxygen to focus.

While you are breaking, give your eyes a mini-rest as well. Focus into the distance, close them for a few moments, or dab in some eye drops.

10. Pay attention to headings and subheadings

Words look different when they are in all caps. A friend of mine got her book all the way to the proof stage at Amazon before she caught a spelling error on the book spine!

11. Use the text-to-speech feature of Word

You can find this feature by going to the help menu of Word for specific directions. I keep it handy on my tool bar where I can select about a page of the manuscript, click the icon, and this wonderful, calm, nonjudgmental male voice (I’ve christened mine “Bruce”) reads through my writing, word by word as I follow along, pen in hand.

12. Build in a reward

Proofreading is hard work. When you are done for the day, pamper yourself. Try a hot bath, a finger massage on your wrists, or soft music with a cold cloth over your eyes.

You’re darn well worth it, and your readers will thank you, too!

PS—Using the above techniques, when I proofread this post I spotted an extra word that didn’t belong, a missing Oxford comma, and six phrases that I wanted to change. Bruce caught a missing end-of-word “n” that I could have sworn I typed. 🙂

 

 

 

Book Review: Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness LookoutFire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was 19, I spent a summer as a forest fire lookout. It changed my life indelibly, and for that reason, I was interested in Philip Connors’ book. He does not disappoint.

Phillip, for the past 8 years, has spent the summer fire season on top of a 75-foot tower in the New Mexico wilderness, looking for fires. He has only his dog Alice for company (although his wife does visit for occasional weekends.)

His book is an interesting compendium of how it is to spend that much time alone, a history of fighting fires in America and how that changed after the disastrous Yellowstone fires, and how he and his wife deal with the separation for months at a time.

“We seek out wild raspberry bushes where the last of the year’s fruit is turning ripe; I pluck a handful to accompany my evening treat of chocolate, leaving the rest to the bears. On days of heavy rain, hail drumming on the metal roof, I cloister myself in the cabin, drink hot tea, read in my sleeping bag with a fire going in the wood stove. Tattered flags of fog drift past the mountain when the rain breaks…”

If you enjoy reading about nature, and about the nature of solitude, this book is for you.

 

Finding peace in a frantic world

West Fork Trail, Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona

West Fork Vista, Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona

“I want to be able to live without a crowded calendar. I want to be able to read a book without feeling guilty, or go to a concert when I like.”
Golda Meir

Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel for ten years and active in public service all of her life was described as strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.

She used to say it was a blessing to be born plain; that the pretty girl had a handicap to overcome, because people saw the beauty first, not the person. She also mentioned the lament of all working mothers: when you are at work, you feel guilty about your children at home; when you are home, you feel guilty about the work left behind.

Time, then, is precious. But time to do what? For Golda, it was time to read a book whenever she wanted, or to attend a concert. I like to think a walk in nature may be the very best use of time ever, but reading a good book comes in a close second!

When we are doing what we want to do, whether it is spending time with our children or pursuing a hobby with passion, time slows down to accommodate us. It obligingly stretches and conforms to the task at hand, giving our creativity not only time, but space as well, so that true joy can be expressed.

How would YOU spend your time, if you had enough to do exactly
what you wanted?

 

 

Finding Water: The Fine Art of Persistance

Finding Water Art of Persistence Julia Cameron

 

My sister’s book club is reading one of Julia Cameron’s books, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I promised her I’d take a look at it. I did, and it is delightful. I recommend it highly!

In the process, though, I came across another book by Ms. Cameron, entitled Finding Water: The Art of PerseveranceI was delighted, because I’d read the first two of this trilogy when I was in art school: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the Artist’s Way. Also highly recommended, by the way.

Julia is no novice to the challenging world of being creative. She’s been at it for 30 years and during that time has written–and had published–over 30 books! Would that I were that successful.

In many of this author’s books, she recommends a practice of three simple acts: 1) morning pages, a type of handwritten journaling, undertaken first thing in the morning; 2) making an “artist’s date” with yourself to explore some new facet of your environment; and 3) a long walk, at least once a week, to connect with nature. I’ve found all three to be richly rewarding.

In Finding Water, Julia encounters writer’s block, rejection, and discouragement as she readies a play for the New York stage. She speaks of the paralyzing effects of perfection. I can relate.

Julia’s inner critic is named Nigel, and Nigel has rules. “A critic such as Nigel has doubts, second thoughts, third thoughts. The critic analyzes everything to the point of extinction. Everything must always be groomed and manicured. Everything must measure up.”

“…an original thought may be disturbing, even dangerous. It wants to see what it has seen before. It has seen a cow, but it has never seen a zebra. Don’t try to tell it that a zebra might be interesting. Those stripes don’t look like such a good idea. Get those zebras out of here!”

I gave Julia a high five for that one. My critic and Nigel are old war buddies. Brothers-in-arms, soldiering on, unappreciated, firmly declaring that black is black, white is white, and forget about all those colors in between.

Right now I am struggling through the simultaneous editing of two works. In my writing critique group we are examining, for the umpteenth time, the first chapter of my next book in the Pegasus Quincy Mystery Series, Fire in Broken Water. 

I’ve read the last chapter of this same book so many times it is almost memorized, and yet my critic–let’s call him Clarkson–is still finding egregious errors any sixth-grader could correct in their sleep.

And when we take a break from that one, the two of us, Clarkson and I, are weaving together a new, very rough draft of the fourth novel in the series called Peril in Silver Nightshade.

Clarkson is having a field day. “You wrote what?” “Don’t you know you can never mix first and third person narratives?” “Info dump. Info dump. Info dump,” he chants.

I want to shout Shut up! in his overly large, cauliflower-shaped ears (the better to hear you with, my dear) and consign him to the upstairs, unheated garret. It is near winter here in Michigan, and that would be a fitting place for him. Although he has this loud screeching voice that would undoubtedly echo through the register.

But to be honest, I need his help. The fairy child has created these lovely works of art, and now it is time for her evil cousin to have his way. And perhaps he isn’t so evil, after all. He is persistent and perfectionistic. I must learn to accept that he is also a part of me, and appreciate what he brings to the table.

I am not sure if I believe in the left brain/right brain dichotomy. It seems much too simple an explanation of the complex workings of our mind. Yet there is a push/pull, an internal dialogue always at work. And that, too, is part of the creative process. I need both the fairy child and Clarkson, just not at the same time, in the same room, talking over each other.

What about you? What do you call your inner critic?
How does it muck about in your creative life?

 

What’s on my bookshelf right now

As we move into fall, weather is getting cooler and days shorter. A great time to read! Here are five that make my list for a good seasonal read:

Cooking like a Master Chef by Graham Elliot

 

Cooking like a master chef by Graham Ellliot. Although I do most of my reading on a Kindle, get this one in hardcopy: the photographs are marvelous. Elliot delights in tweaking American recipes.

For example, his version of the banana split features caramelized bananas foster, hazelnut crunch instead of peanuts, and coffee-chocolate sauce. Yum!

 

 

Plainsong by Kent Haruf 

Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Kent is a master wordsmith, creating in the small town of Holt, Colorado, a place so real you can taste the snowflakes on your tongue.

He tells the story of two young boys trying to make their way in a farming community with small adventures and challenges that lead to lives fully lived.

To be savored, like fine wine.

 

 

Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller

 

Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller. This is the sixth in a series of mysteries about Bell Elkins, who Michael Connelly has called “one of the most fully realized characters in fiction today.”

In this mystery, Bell deals with a harrowing 24-hour opioid crisis in the small West Virginia town where she lives.

Not to be missed!

 

The life we Bury by Allen EskensThe Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. In this intriguing who-done-it, Allen gives us a harried English major with a term paper due, meets a killer recently released from prison.

Well crafted, humorous in places and suspenseful throughout, this mystery was an Edgar finalist, an Anthony Award finalist, and won the Left Coast Crime Rosebud award for Best Debut Novel.

You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

A Wilder Rose Susan Wittig Albert

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert –Because I grew up in South Dakota, the novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder were required reading!

Little did I know that the books were actually co-authored by Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was a world-traveler and published author in her own right.

Although a fictionalized biography, this novel is based on the diaries and letters of both women and deals with the American depression and the conflicted relationship of two strong-willed women.

 

What are you reading right now? What is your absolute favorite book?