The Importance of Proofreading
The process of writing is one of change, as what you are writing is in a constant state of flux. Once that piece has been published, however, it is complete. It can no longer be edited. It has reached its final state.
If you are self-publishing—either by releasing a larger work yourself through a self-publishing platform, or a shorter piece such as a story, poem, or article on a blog or similar website—then the final proof is down to you, and needs to happen before you press ‘publish.’
If, however, you are submitting your work to someone else—whether a complete novel to an agent or publisher, or something shorter to a magazine, newspaper, or publisher such as Thanet Writers—then the final proof comes before you hit ‘submit,’ and is still your responsibility, even though there may be editors and proof-readers who will go through it, should it be accepted.
The difference between writing that only you will see and writing that is for other people is that definitive moment of finality; once it has left your possession, it must be complete. This applies as much to a final manuscript that is potentially heading towards the Big Five as it does to a Facebook post of a few short sentences on your public page or profile. In other words, as a writer everything you release will be read and judged, and therefore needs to be as good as it can be. There is nothing worse than a brilliant story with an awful, obvious typo in the first paragraph, or an incredible poem with a rogue apostrophe.
Recently, I saw a fellow writer post a short extract online. As someone I know, and whose writing I enjoy, I read this with anticipation. It was a good extract, definitely an interesting and original take on an idea, and should have garnered a lot of positive feedback and praise. However, it was already attracting comments pointing out grammatical errors and missing words. What should have been a discussion on the merits of the piece had turned into a barrage of corrections. Fortunately, as the writer had published this in an editable form, they were able to correct these mistakes, at which point a few of the comments were deleted by their original authors, but the damage had already been done. Those remarks that remained were highlighting errors that no longer existed, thus demonstrating the lack of proofing instead of the quality of concept. It was the execution, not the idea, which failed.
Grammatical perfection may, to some, feel like overkill. I am all for expressing your own authorial voice through deliberate manipulation of grammar and spelling; writing wrong can sometimes be right. There is a huge difference, however, between breaking the rules and simply making mistakes. The former is deliberate artistic expression, whilst the latter is just plain sloppy.
The easiest way to avoid the wrong attention is to proofread what you have written. Use tools like spelling and grammar checkers in word processors, or websites that offer these for free. Run it by a writers’ group or another writer if you can—you can often find them in online discussion groups—or even just ask someone who you know has a good grasp of language to read it through. Befriend a grammatarian who will, without fail, spot every misspelled shop name and grocers’ apostrophe that plagues their local high street and ask them to quickly read it, if you can. It doesn’t take much to get a second pair of eyes on your writing, and those eyes will see what yours do not.
After all, when your writing reaches that final stage, and you are ready to press that button to send it away, you need to know beyond all doubt that it is the best it can possibly be, and that it will not be let down by a foolish error or two, so make sure that it is.
© 2018 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.