Proofreading and Editing Your Own Work

1 May

Hello all. Today I though I’d write a follow up to my earlier post in which I confessed to some of the mistakes I made and problems I encountered in my self publishing journey. You can read the post here if you’re interested. This post is part update and part advice. I want to share my experiences and what I’ve learned in the hope other writers in my position will get something out of it; you can learn from my mistakes.

I’ve been looking at my options for future books and deciding if I can afford editing and proofreading. If I was still in my day job I might well have risked the investment this time but unfortunately things didn’t work out that way; as I had already committed to buying two books covers from an old college friend before I had to leave my job it might not be something I can afford to do, no matter how useful it would be. I’m considering my options.

This dilemma got me thinking though. I can’t be the only hopeful writer with a dream and a zero budget. So what can you do if you can’t afford professional services? Below are my tips, things I’ve found useful in my own work. Obviously I am writing from the point of view of a short story writer, which I believe to some extent makes things easier. Novel writers can still benefit from these but because a novel by its nature has more plotlines and characters it may be a more difficult task.

1) Get a good book on basic grammar if your skills are rusty. When I was studying creative writing at the Open University one book they advised us to get was ‘The Student’s Guide to Writing’ by John Peck and Martin Coyle. It has lots of good advice on grammar punctuation, and spelling. It also has sections on commonly misspelled words. It’s accessibly written and doesn’t try to complicate things. I find this one really handy when I get in a muddle and need to check something quickly. Ironically though its advice on quotation marks does contradict what the OU’s creative writing books teach. Incidentally the OU’s first creative writing book has sections on editing, which you may find useful if you can stretch to it.

2) Write your first draft by hand. I don’t mean write the entire book by hand first, just one story or chapter at a time, unless you really want to do it that way in which case go for it! I found this very helpful. In fact this made the biggest difference to me. I did this for ‘Mysterious Tales’  and, although I don’t claim it was completely error free first time, it certainly helped. When you’re in the writing mood the chances are your brain is focussing on the words and not the technicalities. It’s easy to catch the wrong key or to use a homophone by mistake.

When you are typing up your work from a handwritten original it’s different. (I don’t know why there’s probably some science behind it.) When you’re copying you’re having to take your time. You’re not caught up in the spontaneity of creating and you’re not staring at a screen full of sentences you’re too familiar with to see the errors in them; instead, you are concentrating on the practical task of copying. It is at this point that the clumsy punctuation or poorly arranged sentences really jump out at you. This method also has the advantage of providing your first edit. Obviously this wont catch everything, especially if you make substantial edits later, but it just might help.

There is of course something else you can try; it’s one of the first things most people usually recommend, to ask friends and family for help. This is ok, but I know it isn’t always an option. In my own experience I found that although there were some people happy to buy the book to support my efforts offers of help in production of the book were less forthcoming. This isn’t a criticism; people are busy with their own lives. Perhaps they don’t want the responsibility.

There is also another factor at work here; if you are completely clueless about grammar and punctuation it’s quite possible your friends will be too. When I was at school they really didn’t teach us about grammar. I even wrote a blog post on the subject. So finding someone with the skills to help isn’t always easy. If you have a friend or family member who is willing to help and has a good grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation take advantage of their offer.

Even if they aren’t so good at the technical side they can still tell you if parts of your story aren’t working or don’t make sense. Of course you should remember you can’t guarantee they will be as  brutally honest with you as you need  them to be, because after all they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

What are your tips for self editing? Do you find handwriting your first draft helps? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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