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The best ways to proofread your own work

27 October 2016

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As a writer, the non-writing part of the job is often the hardest. Proofreading, in particular, can be one of the most laborious, frustrating and ultimately fruitless tasks we undertake.

That is, unless you know how to proofread. It’s a bit of an art, you see.

To the uninitiated, this might all sound a bit silly. Surely, you write something, read it and tweak as necessary, no? Not quite. The first draft of any written piece of work is usually pretty rough, if the right approach has been taken. This is because the best writing takes place when you just write. That means getting words down quickly, and without fear of their construction being less than stellar.

It’s when you revisit your scribblings that the magic starts to happen, but all too often, this stage of creative writing can become burdensome. Sentences don’t seem to make any sense; the narrative appears to have gone walkabouts; your sense of what is and what isn’t grammatically correct goes out of the window.

In some ways, a bad proofread is far worse than writer’s block.

In this post, I’ve got five simple tips for holding your nerve while proofreading and turning that first draft into your best work.

1. Free your mind

Don’t proofread something immediately after you’ve written it. Go for a walk, work on something else or put the TV on for ten minutes. Free your mind.

Just as when writer’s block strikes, the process of removing oneself from the words (or lack of them) will help you regain composure and enable you to assess your work subjectively.

2. Forget the story

This one is a little more tricky, but to proofread your own writing effectively, you need to approach it as though you’re a stranger. Forget the narrative, characters and story and read as though you’re entirely new to the piece.

It takes practice, but the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your readers will make every proofread the productive journey of discovery and literary development it should be.

3. Make a few passes

You don’t have to check for everything in one go. Try breaking up your proofreading into several tasks; make one pass to assess format, another to ensure the grammar is in check, a third to make sure the narrative makes sense and a fourth to hunt down spelling errors. It’ll take longer, but it’s worth the effort.

4. Avoid drifting

A perennial problem when proofreading is drifting off into another realm. Our brains are prone to wandering, particularly if the task at hand feels laborious or frustrating.

You want to get the book finished and you’re perhaps ultra critical of yourself, but if you can keep those emotions in check by remaining focused on the purpose of the proofread, you’re less likely to drift.

If you feel your mind wandering, try tapping a foot in rhythm with the words being read and make sure all distractions (TV, radio, other people) are removed.

5. Read out loud

Is a certain sentence making zero sense in your head? Try reading it out loud. Pretend you’re a narrator or news anchor - does it still sound incorrect when you pretend you’re reading it to the masses?

It’s amazing how different a sentence or paragraph can sound when read out loud. More often than not, you’ll find you’ve got it exactly right.

There you have it - some simple proofreading tips to help you on your way. As always, if we’ve neglected to mention a technique you’ve relied on for some time and you don’t mind sharing it with our community of self-published writers, please do get in touch, and we’ll feature the best on this very blog!

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