“Why You Should Battle the Proofreading Ogre and How to Manage the War”

Proofreading is so much more than reviewing text for errors.

It is a masochistic activity that follows close on the heels of the euphoria of producing your final draft. It is an ogre that demands you subject yourself to a mind-numbing, euphoria-fizzling, eye-blearing, ego-destroying evil. Over and over again.

Why take on the battle? Why subject yourself to something that is guaranteed to reduce you to a whimpering shell of a writer? Something that will change you from that person who shouted “I did it! I finished the manuscript and it rocks!” to a sniveling, dull-eyed penitent who admits, “I can’t spell, punctuate or marry a noun to a verb to save my soul.”

There are plenty of reasons to take on the proofreading ogre. Here are four:

  • Proofreading will catch many typographical mistakes. The computer spell-check program won’t catch all of them – it won’t pick up homonyms that are really typos, it might not detect the missing period at the end of a sentence, or the closing quotation mark, and it won’t alert you to the sentences that don’t make any sense at all because you inadvertently cut too much when you moved a section of text. But it will get you 90% there. The other 10% is up to you or another human proofreader.
  • It could save your query or submission from the garbage can. How many agents and editors have you heard say: “Please send me your queries with all the typos and mistakes. I love to read garbage?” None. How many have you heard say: “I put garbage in the garbage can. Quickly.” Every one of them.
  • Your manuscript deserves every chance you can give it. You have worked on your manuscript for a long time, perhaps years. The agent or editor may still reject your submission, but by presenting it in the correct format and free of typos and grammar errors, you give it a fighting chance. It’s your baby – are you going to send it out into the world without the protective sheen that proofreading can give it?
  • You owe it to yourself. You are not a sloppy writer; you are not a lazy writer. You are a talented writer, one who cares about the product. You do not write garbage. Don’t allow your manuscript to say otherwise.

Even though we know the reasons we must proofread, the process can remain a disheartening one. However, there is one thing you can do that will turn the process into an activity that is, if not enjoyable, at least positive. It’s this:

Decide that you are not searching for errors you made. You are searching for errors the computer made.

And let’s face it – probably all the errors in your manuscript are computer errors.

Sure, you were in charge of the keyboard, but if it’s like my computer, it has a mind of its own, especially late at night or early in the morning. Often it forgets periods or closing quotations. It insists on spelling “the” as “teh.” Sometimes my computer deliberately changes the text overnight so that when I reread a passage in the morning I find myself asking, “who wrote this piece of horse-pucky?” And the answer, invariably, is “not me.” If not me, who? Who else – the computer. It’s plotting against me, I’m positive.

The search for computer-generated errors in your manuscript could turn a masochistic activity into a challenge. Man or woman against machine. You may feel a sense of well-being, perhaps even superiority, as you find the mistakes your stupid computer made, or the ones that your devious, evil computer deliberately planted as a test of your intelligence. You might even regain that euphoria you felt when you finished your final draft.

That’s my secret to managing proofreading. What’s yours?

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About Charlotte Morganti

Charlotte Morganti has been a burger flipper, beer slinger, lawyer, and seasonal chef de tourtière. And, always, a stringer-together-of-words. In addition to her law degree, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her short fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review and The Whole She-Bang 2. Her first novel, The Snow Job, was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award in 2014 for the best unpublished crime novel. She lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband and the quirky characters who populate her fiction.