Proofing and re-proofing work

I am always interested to know how other authors proof their work. Clearly in the case of some in the news right now – Jacqueline Howett comes to mind – proofing takes a back seat to instant publishing. I am among those who feel that this gives indie writers a bad name and prevents serious readers even taking a look at some of the self-published kindle novels on Amazon, Smashwords or wherever.

But in my case, I sometimes feel that proof reading my own work is akin to having my hair cut. My hairdresser is a total perfectionist (poor her having to work with my hair) and will cut and wash and dry my hair and then start on the long process of trimming each side one millimetre at a time, to ensure total evenness. It’s a great work ethic she has there but on several occasions I have had to step in and point out that my hair is getting shorter and shorter as she evens it up on each side and then sees a hair that bothers her and the process starts again. There comes a point where enough is definitely enough.

My own mother comes to mind here too. I remember her baking square cakes in my childhood that of course never came out perfectly square because one side always seems to rise a little more. Or maybe that’s just my family’s cooking skills… So my mum would trim one side of the cake and then the other, then realise she had a rectangle so would start cutting the ends to get a square shape again. Eventually she would end up with a minute one inch cake – but it was a perfect square. And, as she always pointed out, unlike the main body of a cake, cake trimmings have no calories so eating them doesn’t count.

When I sit and proof a novel, an article or a short story, I often find myself sucked into a similar situation. I write the first draft of a novel with very little pause for correction in case the flow is broken. I then go back and read the whole book to make sure the plot makes sense and that there is a sense of flow. At this stage I take out only the most egregious errors. There follows a six month period where I put the novel away entirely and write something else. Then I come back to it and start to proof in earnest. I go through it three times, cutting, correcting, re-jigging and am always depressed to find that there seems as much to do on the third attempt as on the first. Finally I go through the entire novel once more for that last hair-snipping in an attempt to make sure the grammar and punctuation is flawless. Only then do I let anyone else read it.

However, I have spent the past few days on this fourth and final read of The Cinnamon Snail and have tweaked and cut words here and there and checked out commas and full stops. It was a relief to finish for the last time. This morning I glanced at it again as I started to read the instructions on Amazon for formatting and uploading. I was horrified to find that I needed to rewrite an entire paragraph in the first chapter and there were three extraneous commas. How is it possible for this to happen after such a lengthy and laborious proofing process?

So I am sitting down once again to run through the entire novel and am wondering at what point it is possible to stop, let the book go and feel confident that I have done my best and that eagle-eyed readers won’t laugh themselves sick at my glaring errors. I certainly don’t want to skimp on the editing process but neither do I want to end up with a 5 page novel akin to my mum’s tiny cake, simply because I was never able to reach the point where I ought to leave well alone.

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2 Responses to Proofing and re-proofing work

  1. Kay Camden says:

    After 8+ times through my MS (I wasn’t counting the first few edits), I’m convinced editing never ends. For most writers, that is. I’ve seen some self-published stuff that clearly wasn’t edited at all. My first draft looked like Dickens compared to those.

    Every time I think I’m ready to query, I read another book on craft, or catch an idea from someone’s blog, and then I want to go through all 125,000 words again.

    • rjwhittaker says:

      Which means, I suppose, that at some point we simply have to grit our teeth, hand the manuscript to someone else and tell them to refuse to give it back and just submit it.

      I too have seen some unedited stuff that is truly mind boggling. It insults the reader to an extent even if unintentionally but it’s also not the professional image I’d like to convey, even if as yet no one wants my work. Doubtless though I’ll get my first book out on Kindle and immediately spot several errors. Even Word doesn’t catch them all.

      You mentioned other people’s blogs. I’m about to link to yours but wondered if you have any others you can seriously recommend?

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