So, a short while ago, I proof read the book I’ve been writing, as a whole book, for the first time (I’ve read it in smaller chunks before). Proof reading and rewriting is something I’ve had to do in musical theatre as well and one of the biggest things I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along – with any kind of writing – is that getting the end of a story you’re creating is just the first step. Equally as important and, possibly, even more time consuming, is the process of then making that story better. To give a couple of examples, The In-Between was on its fifth draft before I recorded the concept album and my book is currently on its third (and only at this stage is it now being shown to anyone else for the first time – eeeeek!). The first drafts of both are probably pretty cringe worthy!
I do not by any means claim to be an expert on proof reading, but here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that may (or may not) be of help to anyone else…
1. Accept that proof reading has to be done
Usually, by the time I get to the stage of doing a full proof read, I’m so familiar with the story I’m writing that I’m a little sick of it. Being honest, I rarely want to proof read or re-draft anything, but it is so necessary.
2. It helps to have a gap beforehand
This is especially important when I’m feeling like I really don’t want to go over the same story again. It can be valuable to take weeks or even months away from a project so I can come back to it fresh for proof reading. (I’m especially bad at this as I usually just want to just get on with things!)
3. Approach it like you’re reading something someone else has written
Some bits of writing will almost certainly need changing or even cutting completely (I know, ahhh!). They may even be bits I really liked before! It’s very easy to be precious with things and become so emotionally attached that it’s hard to change anything – but, that way, the end result will never be anywhere near as good as it could be. I’ve found that approaching a proof read as if I’m reading something someone else has created can help counteract this and give me a new perspective on my work.
4. Print it out
I’ve found it’s much easier to proof read a paper copy than on screen. I always write on a computer, so reading a hard copy helps, again, to disconnect me from seeing it as something I’ve written. It also means that if we happen to get that delightful rarity – a warm, sunny day – when I’m proof reading, I can even sit in the garden while working! Huzzah.
5. Use brightly coloured pens
You know those packs of fluorescent gel pens you buy in stationary shops because they’re on offer and look kind of cool, but then you never use them? Proof reading is an actual viable use for these! Maybe it sounds obvious, but writing notes in a bright colours or highlighting them makes finding them again later ten times easier.
6. Make sure handwritten notes are legible
Going through my paper copy book to find the changes I’d noted, there were some places where I genuinely had no idea what it was I’d scribbled down. It may have been the most sensible thing I’d ever written but now I’ll never ever know…
7. Breaks good, procrastination bad!
I try and take a break for a few minutes every so often and walk around the house or look out in the garden. It helps stop eye strain if nothing else. Warning though; these breaks have the potential to expand dangerously – no matter how much Facebook or Twitter calls to you, the internet is not your friend while proof reading. I may have occasionally failed a bit epically in this regard…
8. Sweets/crisps/cakes/pudding may be necessary (ah, get the title now? You know, because you eat said pudding and it helps you proof read, so the proof is in… I’ll stop.)
I found Haribo Tangfastics to be particularly motivational when the going got tough.
9. Don’t expect to proof read 100,000 words in a day
This may sound silly/obvious to everyone but me, but some days proof reading seems to go reeeeeeally slowly and I can get pretty demoralised if I don’t make much progress. I usually want to rush through to get it done, but it always takes longer than I think it will and, in the long run, it is always worth taking the time to do it properly.
10. Try not to think of proof reading as trying to perfect your entire show/book
Trying to grasp hold of a whole story and, in the process, working out how to make it better can be a very daunting task, especially when said story is many many many words long. I find it’s helpful to think of just trying to improve tiny parts of the whole at a time. So, instead of thinking ‘how do I make this story good?’, I try and focus on how every little line or word I spot to change will ultimately make the whole thing a bit better – and that all adds up in the end. Hopefully.
Right, that’s it for now. I hope it might be of some use or interest. If not… eh well, maybe I should have proof read it better.
Thanks for reading.