You’ve finished a story, an article, a poem, a blog post, an email, a text message. You’re ready to hit the “Post” or “Publish” or “Send” button, but . . . wait. Did you take another look at this work before you moved forward?
Whatever it is, you should proofread that thing before doing anything else with it.
I realize that, with many writers taking part in National Novel Writing Month (aka, NaNoWriMo), right now, the last thing you need to be doing right now is catering to the inner critic and editing your work as you go. That’s not what I am hinting at here — because with that NaNo work, you’re not at the proofread or editing stage yet. You’re at the unearthing stage, the part where you tell yourself the story and write for consistency and volume. And in reality, you may not be (and in many cases will not be) done writing your novel come November 30. What I’m talking about is what you do once you’ve finished that first draft of your work. It’s a simple process that works well for shorter pieces of writing, but can be applied to any first draft (or, really, any draft).
And so when you’re finished with your piece of writing, there is a next critical step in the process that is absolutely essential before doing anything with it. Most forms of writing will require multiple drafts, unless that writing is in the form of text messages, which are frequently shot off like stray arrows without thought. But even text messages hold weight, as do social media posts, two forms of writing virtually nonexistent 20 years ago.
Anything you write should go through the editing process, however small. Even if you feel the structure of the work is sound, or the format is to your liking, at the bare minimum, that thing should undergo a proofread. Make it as clean as possible. If you’re looking to inspire readers, if you’re looking to have them feel something from your words, if you’re looking to make some kind of mark or even a small point, then having clean copy is going to make it that much more powerful. Likewise, it’ll show how serious you are about that work, how much you care.
Ideally, you should have a second set of eyes read your work. Someone who is not closely connected with what you’ve written. In many cases this is a non-negotiable step, it’s absolutely critical because, again, you simply need a fresh set of eyes to see what you’ve already seen in a way that you haven’t. Having an editor is a good idea for longer forms of work, be it novels or nonfiction books or articles or essays or pieces you’re submitting to any kind of publication. And while I’m not yet at this step myself, I absolutely plan on hiring an editor to edit my novel. I’ve already put it in my mind that as a worthy investment.
(While I’m not “officially” taking part in NaNoWriMo this year myself, I do have a daily word count I’m working towards on my book. NaNo is, however, an awesome platform that can really help writers develop a strong habit of writing consistently, so if you’re NaNo participant this year, keep going — it’s worth the effort!)
If you’re writing a blog post or a lengthy piece for social media (or even a smaller piece), you may not have the time or resources to have someone else read the thing over before you hit send or post or schedule or whatever. And so there is a way for you to proofread your own work that will make a massive difference. It’s actually a two-step process that I’ve learned over the years and is going to sound so simple it’s stupid. But it’s not stupid, and in fact I felt stupid when I learned this trick years ago because I hadn’t already thought of it.
Note that this is not a foolproof method; I still catch typos all the time that I try to go back and fix. Human error is inevitable, which is why, again, having a second set of eyes is always a good idea. But if you can’t, here is how you can make your work even cleaner and stronger than it would be otherwise:
- Once you’ve finished the work, walk away. Go do something else or write something else for 10 or 20 minutes. Hell, five minutes will even make a difference. Just do something that literally takes your mind and thoughts away from what you’ve just written.
- Come back, sit down and look that piece of work over again, but this time, read it out loud. And if you can’t read it out loud, read it as a whisper, or even simply mouth the words as you read through them. However you do it, go through it slowly, word by word, line by line, as if you’d never read it before. Don’t speed through this part; and sometimes even reading groups of words at a time can help catch something you didn’t see before: typos, grammatical errors, etc. Doing this will even just allow you to think of better words to use the second time around.
I’ve always felt words have a musicality to them. When read aloud, they take on a richer quality. No place have I learned this more than reading to my kids every night. I never would have expected such an awesome activity would result in finding a new beauty in the music of words and stories and poems. My kids love it, and it has allowed me to read with a new set of eyes and ears.
The read-aloud process can mean the difference between posting a clean blog and a sloppy one. And again, even after doing this, typos can still find their way through, the same way weeds break through the pavement of a sidewalk . . . but doing this will reduce that probability, and may be worth doing this a few times before publishing anything.
If you take your work seriously, if you love words, if you love stories and care about the impact they’re having on the reader, if you want to emulate to others the way you’ve been inspired, then please, please, please take the time to proofread your work. And whenever you can, send to a friend, a colleague, or anyone to take a second look. When you can and when it’s appropriate, hire or work with an editor.
We need more stories, more voices, more ways of seeing in this world, and your perspective does matter. When your words are clean and are easy to read, they’re even more inspiring. Yes, this takes effort, but that’s the point. And it’s worth every ounce of it.
Editing matters, it’s not separate from the writing process, it’s part of it — it just lies on the other side of the coin.
(And yes, as a disclaimer, I do offer editing services, but no, this method is not a pitch. It’s a simple process for proofing one’s work, but one I’ve found has a great impact. If do you have questions about editing or simply want to talk writing, send me an email and I’m more than happy to chat.)
Cheers, and happy editing.
Photo via kulinetto / Pixabay.