I know. You did it right the first time. Didn’t we all? But really, take it from a proofreader and editor who literally corrected rocket scientists’ grammer and spelling (that’s me), you cannot proofread your own work perfectly! But you can do a pretty good job. I’m sharing with you my best tips and tricks for proofreading and editing your own work!
Why is it so hard? Because your brain knew what you meant. Your brain will see what it meant to see, not necessarily what’s actually there. It makes sense, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Just accept it and learn a few tricks. Also, hire an editor to help you! You may not know an editor. You may not be able to pay an editor. But I’ll bet you know an English teacher who’d be happy to help you! Before that, though, the fewer mistakes there are, the better. So it’s helpful to do as much as you can before sending it off to the pro. Here’s how.
Editing is all about making content changes: word choice, sentence structure, concept clarity, organization, grammar, and the like. This is focused on how you’re communicating with your audience.
Google Commonly Misused Words and Phrases
Affect or effect? Could care less or couldn’t care less? It’s or its? Insure or ensure? Hone in or home in? Are you using the word literally in a figurative sense—if so, STOP! They’re, there, or their? Are you using among and between correctly? Compliment or complement? Stationary or stationery? Do you mean e.g. or i.e.? Did they emigrate or immigrate? Did you know there’s a difference between farther and further? Anyway or anyways. (Note: one of these is never correct.) I or me? (Note: “I” is not always correct.) Is your interest peaked or piqued?
Y’all, these are just some of the distinct differences that writers need to know! Nothing says “amateur” quite like misused words or phrases. Just do a quick Google of “commonly misused words or phrases,” and check yourself. Not only will you seem smarter in your writing, you’ll also actually be smarter!
Oh, you didn’t know “y’all” is actually a word and not a sign of ignorance? Read Shakespeare.
Look for Repetitive Words or Phrases
In the last book of my Lost and Found series, my husband pointed out that I was using the word “just” too often. I hadn’t even noticed! So I was able to go back through and decide where “just” was justified and where I could use a different word, or omit it entirely. This was very helpful!
I read a book once where the author could not stop using the word “notion.” It was irritating! I notice this in other people’s writing, but not my own. Whoops! Be on the lookout for words of phrases you might be using too often.
Read next: How to Add Your Book to Goodreads
Learn the Grammar Rules
I know, I know, why learn grammar when you’ve got Grammarly? Because believe it or not, Grammarly doesn’t know everything. And spell check will not catch misused words if they are spelled correctly. It’s better to simply know the rules, not just so you can write correctly, but also so you can break the rules effectively. Sentence fragments are no good. But an effective fragment can make a point in a unique way. Again, do a little Googling for “commonly broken grammar rules,” and see what comes up. You might be surprised!
Take a break: Why You Need a Creative Retreat
Pick a Tense and Stick to It
This is on the list because I am terrible at this! I have to be very aware of my tenses and remind myself to use the same tense throughout my books. Are you writing in present tense? Past tense? Pick one!
Ask for Feedback
Feedback is absolutely essential. If you’re just writing for you, don’t worry about feedback! But if you’re writing with the intention for other people to read it, you’ll need other people to read it along the way. Be receptive with regard to where your readers think the story is hard to follow or doesn’t quite make sense. It doesn’t mean your book is bad, it means you could stand to give more detail, explain your ideas differently, or consider going a different direction. Forging ahead with plot points that don’t work will not be helpful!
Here are some ideas of who to ask to read your work during the process:
- Find one person you trust to be honest but build you up. This is probably not your mom or your spouse, if they’re the kind of person who thinks everything you do is perfect. The best person for this is your most honest friend—not your least kind friend, just the most honest.
- Find two to three people who fit your target audience. Are you writing for young adults? A children’s book? A strong female audience? Choose people in your target audience to see if they think it’s right for them.
- Find one person who is well-spoken. Well-spoken people are usually also well-written people. This isn’t a know-it-all, this is a person who can tell you when you might be using words and phrases the wrong way, unintentionally using the same word over and over again, the overall tone of your writing, etc.
Read next: How I Published 8 Books in 5 Months
Hire an Editor
Don’t get me wrong, you definitely need to hire a proofreader and editor. Hire one. Don’t depend on your friends to do a professional job if they’re not a professional. I cannot stress this enough. This is the difference in a professional versus an amateur. Maybe you are an amateur. But guess what? Other people don’t have to know!
Proofreading is all about making accurate corrections: typos, spelling errors, punctuation, etc. This is more focused on the small things that people don’t notice when they’re correct, but definitely notice when they’re incorrect.
Write Down Your Rules
Are you using periods to write “Washington, D.C.” or are you going sans-periods with “Washington, DC” instead? Are you using Arabic numerals for numbers 10 and up, or are you writing them out until you get to 100? There are certain rules of style, but the important thing is consistency. If you’re going to vary from a grammar rule or manual of style, make sure you do it the same way every time. Write these down and keep them close so you don’t forget!
Let It Rest
The best way to find your own mistakes and typos is to take a break from the project. Take at least one week to work on something else, or just take a break entirely! When you come back, you’ll have fresh eyes, and you’ll be shocked at how many little things you looked at a million times and never saw them.
Read It Aloud
I just recently started doing this particular strategy earlier this year, and I can’t believe how helpful it is! It’s amazing how speaking your writing out loud can help you catch typos, mistakes, and realize that the eloquent sentence you thought you wrote really just sounds pretentious! Definitely read your pages out loud, either to someone else or even to yourself!
Read It Backwards
I know this sounds weird, but it works! Start at the last word on the last page of your book, and look at each word individually. Since you won’t be paying attention to grammar or punctuation, your brain will see each word and be able to hone in on any spelling errors you may have missed.
Did you know you catch more mistakes when looking at words on paper as opposed to a laptop or phone screen? It’s the truth. You know how, when you hit publish or send an e-mail or submit a blog post, there’s that one painfully obvious mistake that makes you feel like all your readers are judging you? Printing your book and giving it a pen-on-paper proof can take care of that!
If you’re self-publishing with Amazon, you can order a hardcopy to proofread before your book is officially published, which I very much appreciate. I definitely recommend doing this at least once before publishing, but if you end up making a large number of changes, I’d advise you to order another copy and give it a final once-over. You won’t regret it!
Are you ready to get writing? I hope this is helpful and inspiring to you! For more about writing and self-publishing, check out my Writing and Publishing Page!
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