Friday, January 9, 2009

The Writing Life: January 2009

Proofreading as a Form of Right Livelihood

I recently completed an assignment proofreading galley copies for a novel en route to the printer. Reading the work of an emerging author is like opening a Christmas present. It’s all fresh, new and exciting. The challenge for me was to keep my proofreading senses sharp.

Here are some techniques I use to ensure effective proofreading:

1. Read the work out loud. When you can hear the rhythm and cadence of a piece, the grammar, punctuation and formatting almost reveal themselves. I’ll also note places where I stop mid-sentence or have to read a sentence more than once. This is often a clue that the words could be confusing to other readers.

2. Work in short blocks of time. I know just how long I can read before I lose my concentration or get swept up in the author’s style. I make it a point to stop 5-10 minutes sooner than my “point of diminishing returns.” I will do some physical task, but I will not read anything else. My entire body needs to take a break in order for me to stay fresh and alert during my proofreading.

3. Keep a dictionary handy. Whether I’m working online or on the page, I make sure to check the spelling and/or meaning of words, if I have even a shadow of a doubt. I also double check the tricky words like “affect/effect” and whether words like “merthiolate” should be proper case with an initial capital letter.

4. Pay attention to details. When proofreading fiction, I’ll check for continuity in action, character, and whether a term is consistently used. I’ll notice if “Magnolia Station,” is sometimes written as “Magnolia station” or if a character speaking in a 20th Century setting is using 21st Century terminology.

5. Read the piece backwards. I proofread highly technical or foreign language words as if they were a series of numbers. By checking these terms one letter at a time, I ensure consistency throughout the work.

6. Read the piece aloud more than once. I not only read on different days, I will read each chapter or section of the work more than once. Whether it’s a very rough first draft or a polished piece ready for publication, I’m likely to see things I missed the first time through.

7. Submit with confidence. By pacing myself and making sure the work is read carefully, I’m able to proofread to the client’s satisfaction. Getting paid to read–especially when I’m among the first to read–makes proofreading a satisfying way to apply my writing skills.

Writer and naturalist JJ Murphy,, offers creative nature curriculum, wild food recipes, fiction, poetry, articles and writing services for individuals, entrepreneurs, small businesses and ecologically aware companies.

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