Feb 27, 2011

Proofreading as a Way of Life

Okay, as a matter of principle I’ve proofread this post several times just to make sure there are no errors and to avoid any suspicion of hypocrisy (at least for this posting) regarding the title.  If someone catches a mistake in this post they have my permission to figuratively hit me on the head (or you could just leave a comment at the bottom of the page taunting me about my mistake).  Hmm…better check one more time just so I don’t end up eating my words (eyes scanning to bottom of post one more time).  Okay, I’m pretty sure everything’s kosher (knock on wood).

Anyways, I remember reading an article awhile back bemoaning the state of the written word in everyday use, particularly when it comes to things like email and other means of personal correspondence.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has pounded out a few sentences or paragraphs in haste and sent off a message without bothering to spell check.  We’re all guilty of a bit of sloppy writing at some point in our lives and it’s not like your primary school English teach will appear in a puff of smoke and slap your wrists with a ruler as punishment.

On a personal level, I decided a few years back to make several self-improvements.  One in particular was to start going to the gym on a regular basis while another was to integrate more proofreading into my daily life.  Like any good habit it took a little while, but I noticed that proofreading began to feel more like second nature with a bit of positive reinforcement (okay, maybe a lot of positive reinforcement).  Sometimes, to my own annoyance and others', I would even scrutinize other people’s emails, etc.  It’s amazing what you’ll notice when you start making a habit of it (maybe it’s me, but some of the online news sites are getting a bit sloppy with their grammar and spelling) and I cringe sometimes when reading an email at work with a couple of misspelled sentences.  Am I perfect at this?  Of course not, but it’s been a fun challenge to meet.  What happened with the gym you might ask?  Two words: cancelled membership (but I haven’t completely given up the hope of rejoining some day).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be hoity-toity about proofreading.  One’s personal writing habits really depend on the person and their individual experiences and that’s perfectly fine.  When it comes to a manuscript though, there’s pretty much universal agreement that you need to be on your best behavior.  The querying process for an agent is hard enough and it’s difficult to convince an agent to take your story seriously if the writing itself hasn’t been thoroughly proofread.  It doesn’t hurt to go through the manuscript several times to see what you catch and even more important to have another person or several people if possible proofread your work.  I’ve learned this the hard way and believe me, there are mistakes you will miss even if you’re the best proofreader in the world and have done it for others as well.  I can’t explain it, but it’s almost as if your mind has its own bias towards the story you’ve written and has some inherent tendency to miss grammatical errors you might catch in another time and place.  I’ve read a chapter ten times to myself and still caught errors. 

In the end, I would highly recommend proofreading your manuscript almost to the point of obsession (trust me, you won’t regret it) and also seeking input from others, but if you find yourself correcting a colleague’s email at work then perhaps you’ve gone too far.

What are your thoughts on proofreading?  Do you reserve it for manuscript revisions or professional emails only or do you find yourself proofreading as a matter of habit on a regular basis?