6 Solid Tips For Self-Proofing and Editing Success
Write Drunk, Edit (And Proof-Read) Sober. Or Hire A Proof Reader.
We all know you should at least find a good proof-reader. Love them, send them flowers, buy them coffee and cake, but most importantly pay them to proof your post before you hit publish, riddled with grammatical errors your spell-check didn’t catch.
We all know, a lot of the time we don’t do that. Well…I don’t. I’m guilty of hitting ‘publish’ and then finding errors; lucky they’re quick and easy to fix in an online platform. Print media isn’t quite so forgiving.
I think there’s one issue we need to get on top of first, don’t you?
Horrendous Hyphens: What They Do And How To Use Them
If you don’t know how or when to use a hyphen, the results can be, well, kinda embarrassing. Kansas paper the Pratt Tribute found out the hard way with this pearler of a headline:
“Students get first hand job experience”.
Say what now?
The headline was photographed, shared on twitter and sparked a grammarian’s gout of fussing and feuding over the placement of that Horrendous Hyphen. Should the words be written ‘first hand’, ‘first-hand’, or — compound it! — should it be ‘firsthand’?
Importantly, is it ‘hand job’, ‘hand-job’, or ‘handjob’??? AND…
What’s The Hyphen’s Job?
According to Grammarly, the rules are:
A hyphen (-) is a punctuation mark that’s used to join words or parts of words. It’s not interchangeable with other types of dashes.
[Hi, its’ me. Dashes are longer and have different uses, like sep-ar-a-ting syll-a-bles, or a narrative function I’m quite fond of — because it emulates speech so well. Back to Grammarly for the rest]
Use a hyphen in a compound modifier when the modifier comes before the word it’s modifying.
If you’re not sure whether a compound word has a hyphen or not, check your preferred dictionary.
According to Jennifer Zeven, the rules are:
I know words like ‘something’ and ‘tomorrow’, began as ‘some-thing’ and ‘to-morrow’, but personally I’m cautious about conjoining words.
So, although it’s clearly ‘hand-job’ (pfft, grammatical Philistines) — a good rule of thumb for Horrendous Hyphens is to pick one option and be consistent. So if you see I’m ignoring Grammarly, that’s why.
A good proof-reader is worth investing in, but let’s just go with the idea that many of us proof and edit our own work. Here are some tips on how to do it AND get good results.
6 Solid Tips For Those Who Won’t Pay The Proofer
Here’s my how-to on how to proof read and edit your own work and publish like a professional 99 percent of the time. (100% seems like too much to live up to.)
The little sub-rule here is to write with wild abandon, and without self-edits or proof reading. You’ll work faster, and editing and proofing are separate parts of the writing process.
Your masterpiece waits like a weedy garden, just waiting for the brilliance to emerge with a little tender loving care and attention.
1. Wait 24 Hours Before Proofing and Editing
It’s hard to have ‘fresh eyes’ on your work, because you’ve spent so much time ‘in’ it. Make sure your eyes have had a rest, looked at something else, had a cup of of your beverage of choice, gone for a walk…etc. Just make sure you’ve taken yourself out of the zone of your message before proof reading and editing.
2. Change Fonts
A quick and dirty hack to getting ‘fresh eyes’ when you’re short on time or know you’ll ignore step 1 is to change font size and type. You’ll be surprised at how much those low-lying errors will leap into the limelight once they’ve had a costume change.
3. Proof-Reading and Editing Are Not The Same Thing
Proof-reading is checking for errors. Editing is making sure everything makes sense, flows logically, and uses words to convey your message the best way you can. Proof-read first, and edit second.
4. Read It Out
Let’s be real. Lots of us aren’t grammar experts. (In fact, in good, engaging copy, we often ignore grammar rules. Grammar is great, it’s the framework, it’s how we use words to make meaning. But it’s not always best at imitating the tone of real live conversation, which is generally what we want with web copy and content.) So here’s a wonderful rule of thumb recommended by Mark Tredinnick, author of The Little Green Book of Grammar. When your grammar is way off, it will sound wrong. So read it out loud, and fix it as you need to.
5. Repeat Steps 1–4
At least twice through! Your terms and conditions will probably include 2 rounds of free edits and revisions: give yourself the same guideline.
6. Don’t Be Drunk
You never know when a teenager will film you.
Hemingway Didn’t Practice What He Preached
“Write drunk, edit sober” said a man who wasn’t Hemingway.
Jeff Goins goes on to say in an article which busts the myth of Hemingway being on the whiskey at work like Donald Draper –“If he did say it, he certainly didn’t practice what he preached”.
Oh. Ok. Why did a little part of me just die inside?
I guess the lazy, lush tendencies inside me shriveled up a little when I read Hemingway didn’t write drunk. That hard work and solid routine (plus talent) were the secrets to Hemingway’s success; that brilliance is hard work, and more than a few drinks away. But really, hangovers are bad enough without looking at your own words and thinking ‘WTF?’.
For us mortal writers, the fearless freelancers, the sturdy start-ups, the storytellers — we know we should hire a proof-reader. But for one reason or another, we don’t always practice what we preach. So if you find yourself in a proof-readerless bind, give my 6 Solid Tips On Self Proofing And Editing With Success a crack.