by Jenny Hansen, @JennyHansenCA
Editing and Proofreading: Two separate processes that equal one great story.
Like most writers, I hang out with a boatload of other writers. Still, I never saw much of other peoples’ works in progress until I coordinated a contest several years ago. Coordinating contests changed the way I see writing. Period. It was a window into both sides of the submission process.
Plus, I saw firsthand one of the important talents that separates the amateurs from the professionals: the ability to both edit and proofread.
In novel-writing, editing is King and proofreading is Queen.
Professional writers, whether published or pre-published know: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. They work hard to make a great first impression.
As a contest coordinator, I had to read every piece of paper sent between the judges and the contestants to ensure everyone played nice with each other. (It should be noted that nearly everyone did.)
There was an area on the score sheet called “Mechanics” worth a whopping twenty points.
One well-known author gave a contestant FIVE points, along with an amazing gift: she chastised the writer that these twenty points were the easiest points to ace in the entire contest. She told the contestant that “there is no excuse for not taking the time to get all twenty points EVERY time.”
Spelling, grammar, punctuation and neatness are nearly the only thing you can be completely confident of when you start writing because things like voice and pacing take a while to master.
I let this (very blunt) comment stand because I knew it might save that contestant’s career.
Many writers see editing and proofreading as the same thing. In reality, these two techniques employ very different parts of your writing brain.
Think of it like building a house. You can lay a solid foundation, frame the house correctly, hang the drywall, slap on some paint and that house is structurally sound, sealed and dry. It is a well-edited house and the floor plan is amazing.
BUT, if you don’t take some extra time on the finish work: painting the trim, adding some scrollwork or lining up the crown molding, fewer people will want to buy it. Worse, if they do buy it (for a much lower rate) they’ll walk away from the exchange thinking you did half-assed work because now they have to take time to fix it.
How is editing different from proofreading?
Here's a great article that discusses the differences between the two. These rules apply whether you’re dealing with business documents, such as white papers, articles or novels.
Although many people use the terms interchangeably, editing and proofreading are two different stages of the revision process. Both demand close and careful reading, but they focus on different aspects of the writing and employ different techniques.
Editing is what you begin doing as soon as you finish your first draft.
Note: Sharla Rae wrote an amazing blog on this topic, called Echoes – Repeat Offenders. It's a must-read.
Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process, focusing on errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation.
It’s recommended that you proofread only after you have finished all of your other editing revisions (so you only have to do it once) but most writers do it as they go along. The danger in this habit is that familiarity can make you blind.
Some tips to help you to search (and find) your errors:
Some tips that apply to both editing and proofreading
Get some distance from the text!
It’s hard to edit or proofread a work in progress that you’ve just finished writing—it’s still too familiar, and you tend to skip over a lot of errors. Put the paper aside for a few hours, days, or weeks. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King recommends a minimum of 2-3 weeks.
Do something else.
Clear your head of what you’ve written so you can take a fresh look at the paper and see what is really on the page. Better yet, give the paper to a friend—you can’t get much more distance than that. Someone who is reading the paper for the first time, comes to it with completely fresh eyes.
Below are some techniques from the University of North Carolina article I referenced up above – I highly recommend reading the entire article if you have time.
Whew! Writing this made me feel like I’ve run a marathon already…how about you? I’m going to take a walk and come back and do some serious editing on the current novel.
What editing and proofreading techniques have you found the most helpful? Are there resources that you rely on during your editing or proofing phase?
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By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.
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Excellent post, Jenny, and a great reminder.
Thank God for my crit partners - they catch my comma drama every time. I'm not bad at grammar (I still stand by my love for the semi-colon) but I'll never understand two things - perfect comma usage and when to use Lay/Lie/Laid/Lain. Sorry, brain blockage.
My best technique for editing (wait for it - long time WITS readers know what's coming) Margie Lawson's deep edits. Once I highlight my pages (honestly, check it out at Lawson Writer's Academy) I turn them upside-down, so I can't read the words - just see the balance of color - and then a miracle happens! I can see where I went crazy with a description, or went on and on in a character's thoughts. The technique gave me balance, and after a while, I didn't need to highlight - I WROTE balanced!
This was huge for me, since backing away and seeing my work objectively is something I struggle with.
WOWZA, Laura. On writing balanced, you reached the enviable state of unconscious competence.
Each night, I tuck my WIP under my pillow and unleash tiny gnomes to write while I'm unconscious. Lazy little boogers. On to Plan B...
You? Comma drama? Pffffft---
Well, okay, I can't lie to the nice people. However, you have excellent writing to make up for the commas. And Fae has broken you of the em-dashes. Now if she could only break me of my "as"...
Thanks Laura, for being the best crit partner EVER.
Great tips! I find that stepping away for a bit and changing the medium does indeed help in catching things we might miss. Thanks for sharing!
You are so welcome. Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Reblogged this on Princess of the Light: Shining the Light For All and commented:
An excellent article for every writer (traditional or indie published)!! Great information and it will go into my writer's tool box! 🙂 MRS N
Thanks, Mrs. N!! (Dying to know what the "N" stands for...)
Jenny, thanks for this ... thanks since I am in that stage with my WIP. I use different methods at different times of the process. The first go round (drafts two or three) I am finding continuity, flow and gross repetition. Hard to believe that I go on a bit too much??? Well I do. And I go on with the same phrases often.
I move into different stages. One wonderful lesson one of my readers taught me is, "Please, this time be sure you want me to read it." What I've done is print out however many pages and then I'd call her and say. "No, don't read that copy. I want to change a few things."
Also ... this one insists on a hard copy, another reader takes a computer copy ... I have also used the ability to transfer a document to my Kindle ... AND ... drum roll please ... AND Margie's color coded deep editing is one of the most valuable tools any of us can ever learn. Once I finally got what she was talking about, I got rid of half ... no three quarters ... of my back story.
Great post, Jenny 🙂
You? Go on too much? What, you mean LIKE THE REST OF US. 🙂 We all do it.
Thank the heavens for writing partners, Margie Lawson and the ability to revise. What would we do without those things?
YIKES! I am in the habit of proof reading and editing at the same time. Do you suppose this is how an 'on' can magically transform to 'in' after 1,583 passes?
As for tips on what works for me, the first is to STOP THE MADNESS. Don't edit ad infinitum while trying to let your voice and story play out on the pages. A purty sentence doth not a novel make. Forsooth.
I have entire SCENES I spent hours making 'just so' only to discover I did that JUST SO I could (gasp!) trash them. That experience is a cranky day waiting to happen.
Your advice to change the format is one I use. When I switch to full page format, where I see two pages laid out like a book, I catch errors in grammar, missteps in cadence, and those pesky typos that sneak under the red squiggly line's radar.
Trap a writing buddy in a car for a long distance drive on an interstate. [Take a preemptive pee so you don't have to stop and give her a chance to run.] Then hand her your WIP and make her read it aloud. AMAZING catches. I almost drove into the ditch several times. On purpose.
Oh good Lord, I know you did that to Sherry... The endless Full Bladder Road Trip, right?
That being said, it's so heartbreaking to have to cut beautiful scenes. I feel your pain. As much as it's not fun for my critique partners, I kind of vomit on the page, then go back later and gussy it all up. It cuts down on that "endless revise" time by a mile.
However, everyone has to find their OWN process. However, perhaps you want to adjust yours to make you less stressed? Anything I can do to help get your book out to the masses so they can enjoy your warmth and wit?
Excellent tips, thank you! Reading out loud is one of my favorite self-editing devices. When I'm doing my final proofread, I send the Word doc to my Kindle. Also, some of my writing colleagues send their final files to CreateSpace and make an ARC for final proofreads or for beta readers...tricks your brain into reading it like a book, where it could be easier to find errors. If you're planning to use a professional editor on your manuscript, doing all the self-editing you can first will not only make the process go more smoothly, but will also reduce your costs.
Reblogged this on Laurie Boris, Freelance Writer and commented:
Check out this article by Jenny Hansen about editing and proofreading, including some handy tips for self-editing. Highly recommended!
Great post, Jenny. The process that works for me is to edit on hard copy then proof on an e-reader. Amazing the things that pop up when you switch to a different format. And if I've edited a few times, I'll change the font and do another round. 🙂
As someone who writes and edits under time pressure in a corporate environment, I've developed a habit (bad or otherwise) of editing and proofing at the same time. I feel like I can hammer out the punctuation details and shape text at the same time. That said, with my personal writing, there comes a time when someone else has to look at it. I can only flog it so many times before it stops breathing.
Jenny, this is a wonderful piece--I never really thought much about the differences between writing and proofing, but it's very true that these are vastly different processes and both are essential to good writing. The main problem I have is turning "off" my editor while I'm writing, so that I'm not constantly saying, "Oh, man, that's a dumb sentence! Wait, that next sentence is even worse! You'd better quit now before anyone sees this!"
Thanks for a great post. With my first novel, I thought I'd edited and proofread it properly (several times), but as soon as I self-published it friends and family started pointing out typos and even missing words. I now realise part of the problem was that I'd confused the editing and proofreading stages - I was constantly proofreading.
I'm also going to check out this 'deep edit' thing'.
Thanks Jen. I've judged in contests and scratched my head sometimes wondering why they didn't proof. A contest is a trial run before sending a piece to an editor so it's almost as important. For my part I'm huge on the reading out loud during proof reading and editing. Used to make my poor son listen for stuff I might not hear. It works great!
Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
This is the advice I wish I would have gotten when I was finishing my first book!!
Reblogged this on insaneowl.
This is a very informative article on editing and proofreading! I love it! Although, I would add that it may be helpful at times to read short pieces while exercising. The endorphins expelled during exercise makes things clearer at times. It may not be good to use during critical parts of editing or proofreading. However, it may help get a refreshed view of short pieces.
I have found it helps to proofread the chapters in a random order rather than working from start to finish. That way I don't get caught up in the story and try to edit it (again!).
Very useful advice (in the comments as well as the actual article)! As a 5th grade teacher, I read my middle grade fiction aloud to my students. No matter how many times I look over it, I ALWAYS catch errors (and awkward phrasings, inconsistencies, etc.) when I hear my own voice reading it aloud. Not to mention that my students' reactions and feedback help me see what scenes work well and what don't, if anything is confusing, etc.
I am a human spellchecker, finding the misspelled words, the misplaced words, and the missing words is part of my giftedness. Been doing it for over 40 years. Fortunately, I enjoy reading a lot.
Also I think there is a writer inside trying to breakout. He is having a hard time though.
I greatly appreciated your article and all the comments. I see a vibrant community of people engaged in similar pursuits. Very cool! I will be back
Change the look of your document is a great technique. A friend of mine prints hers out in the form it would actually look in a book - two sides and smaller print, single space.
Jenny, for final edits, what works the best for me is to print out the MS in a different size and a very different font than I use on the computer, make a cup of tea, find a quiet place where I won't be disturbed and start reading, from page one, as if it's a book I've never read before, written by another author. It's amazing how doing this helps me catch everything from G/P/S errors to logic flaws, and everything in between.
Good post, and informative. Thanks for sharing.
Good reminder post for me right now. I'm editing a previously pubbed book - edited & published by a NY Big Publisher. Yes, it happens. Taking out filler & repeated phrases and adding depth of character and motivation. I'm hoping for a miracle, those Girls in the Basement to do the work. But they're pushing me to work so they can dance! When this I'd done, I'll join them. Nice to know I'm in such good company here.
Damn autocorrect! Should be this is done, not I'd done. Need some better proofing here. 🙂
Jenny, I gave a lecture last night on how to edit. Would you mind of I reprinted your instructions on how to edit in my blog? If it is allowable please e-mail me at email@example.com
Thanks in advance.
James M. Copeland
Web site: http://www.jamesmcopelandbooks.com
Great advice. I always seem to be proofreading and editing at the same time. I really want to try and break it into steps so I don't overlook anything.
Thank you for posting this. I'm a beginning writer and editing/proof reading is an area I need to improve.
Oh lordy. I actually edit while I write...the day after I write something, or when I've got a new section, I look over it to make sure it matches up. Typoes and other things too...they can be mean. Once I missed a use of a lowercase L instead of an I...and I still don't know how it happened, lawl XD
So sharing this on Facebook and in my author group. 😀 (And, lol, I use my personal/art-based account for FB, sorry about the awkward name.)
D.N. Lyons (author of Neptune the Briarhearted)
[…] Hansen brought up a great point in her post, Do You Know How to Edit and Proofread? There is a difference you […]
Thanks for allowing the post. James M. copeland
This is a very helpful article - and so are the comments! Personally, I edit as I go, generally paragraph by paragraph. When a piece is complete then I proofread in a quiet place where I can read it out loud. So many people fail to do this! If it doesn't flow off the tongue it's not going to flow in the brain/imagination.
I've had writing misadventures literally editing the piece unto death. Most have remained buried for years! I've learned not to do that anymore. Thanks for the great read, Jenny. Sharing & reblogging.
Reblogged this on Professional Web Content.