Seven Tips for Proofreading Your Novel

I’m about to conduct the final pass on the book I have been writing for the past three years. Now, the book isn’t about to get published, but I am about to submit it as part of my dissertation. And trust me, when it’s about to come out in real life, I will be letting you know.  

While I have read the full manuscript numerous times, I am yet to perform an actual proofread. 

The reason why is because proofreading is the final step in the writing process. 

Think about it; there isn’t much point in fixing up all your typos, missing words, or grammatical and punctuation errors until you are certain that you are happy with the story on a structural level and at the line level. 

So in today’s post, I am sharing my seven tips for proofreading your novel.

Tip #1: Less is more

Details aren’t my strong suit and proofreading is all about the details. 

It requires a high level of concentration to perform a good proofread on a book, and for that reason, I plan on only editing in short bursts of an hour or less. 

Basically, as soon as I feel myself getting distracted, reading too quickly, or if I feel my attention is wanning, then it’s time to call it a day–or at least take a break. 

# 2: Paper 

I plan on doing this proofread on paper rather than the screen. 

We’ve all heard that we tend to skim when reading on screen and that we often absorb more when we read on paper. 

By editing on paper, I am eliminating all the potential distractions that come along with working on a computer: social media, emails, and all that is the internet. 

I am also more likely to identify and recognise errors because it is easier to control reading speed when editing on paper, which brings me to my next point.

# 3: Slow and close reading

I have read this novel so many times and I am totally blind to its inconsistencies and errors. I am so familiar with the work that it has become fixed in my mind as if it is set and finished. 

The reason why you need to take a break between writing and editing is that our brain will often insert missing words and skim over errors on the page because we know what we meant to say, even if that isn’t actually reflected on the page. 

To conduct a slow and close read, I will literally be reading the novel a sentence at a time, and to ensure that I don’t run ahead, I will use a ruler or a sheet of paper that I slowly move down the page as I read. By doing this, I can only visually see one line at a time and that line is more likely to get my full attention because my eyes are not drifting towards the next sentence. 

In the spirit of slowing down, I’ll also be reading the work out loud. This will help me identify any awkward phrasing, missing words, or incomplete sentences. Though this read will primarily be focussed on identifying errors within the text, reading aloud will also allow me to check the rhythm of the work, which is personally really important to me. 

# 4: Physical comfort

This may seem silly, but you must be physically comfortable when doing a proofread. 

I mean, you should be physically comfortable anytime you are writing, editing, or otherwise working at a desk, but the reason why I raise this point here is because you don’t want your attention to be divided between the manuscript and the uncomfortable chair you are sitting on, or the too hot room, or the fact that your new puppy is chewing your charging chord… 

If you are reading on paper, then make sure you are also doing so in a way that’s going to prevent you from putting your neck out or causing round shoulders. I want you to do a good proofread, but you don’t need to look like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame to do so. 

#5: Breathing space

As I mentioned before, it can be much easier to edit your own work when you place some distance between read-throughs. In my opinion, if you can, it is ideal to have a break between the structural edit and the copyedit and another break before you begin the proofread. 

If you notice things you’d like to address in your next round of edits, certainly make a note of it or fix it on the spot, but again it is essential to have these breaks as a way to defamiliarise yourself from the narrative. 

# 6: Look out for your writing tics

If you’ve been writing for a while, then you likely are aware of the words and phrases you use all the time. During the proofread, it is important to look out for these tics as they can become grating for the reader if they appear too often in the text. 

For instance, some words that I seem to use all the time are turning and towards. In my fiction, everyone seems to be turning or going towards something. I also have a weird habit of dropping the ‘s’ on my plurals, for example, she had so many hat or too many wine. I also have a weird tendency to use too many compound sentences with the conjunction but. For example, The office was ordinarily quiet, but not today. Or Susan didn’t want to invite Louise in, but she did.  

#7: Proofing during my optimal hours

As I mentioned, proofreading requires a high level of concentration. For this reason, I plan on doing my proofread during the times of day when I feel my best. Personally, I am a morning person. As my days go on, my brain slowly shifts from being an optimistic wonderland of creativity and productivity to a bowl of mashed potatoes. 

As I am only proofreading for an hour or less, a day, I plan on scheduling that time before the rest of my work day begins. 

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. 

How do you approach the proofreading of your manuscripts? Are there any tools or tricks that I didn’t mention that assist you through this stage? 

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