How To Proofread A Novel Without Losing Your Mind

7:00 AM


(So, I've talked about how I'm redesigning the blog before, and I wasn't lying. The new design is going up on Saturday, August 29th, so you'll have to excuse any and all fiddling around and oddness on the blog on that day. But I'm super excited, so there.) 




I bet you thought you were going to get some wise advice about proofreading here. 

HA JUST KIDDING THERE'S NO WAY TO MAKE IT OUT OF PROOFREADING SANE as this alone is probably proving to you. 

So you've got this novel. 


If you're at a stage where you're interested in proofreading, you're probably at least a few drafts in. You've never been over the grammar and spelling, but you've sure whipped this plot and these characters into shape, and really spent a lot of time rewriting. You're already a mess of coffee and very little sleep and sore fingers and everything that comes with novel-writing. 

You're a pro by now. 

You've got this proofreading thing down. 


EXCEPT THERE'S THIS THING CALLED SPELLING AND GRAMMAR. 

As soon as you open that document again and stare at the latest draft, ready to skim through all those little mistakes your eager precious fingers might have made, your eyes are assaulted by some of the most horrid writing you've ever seen. This came from your brain. This is your writing. 

WHAT IS THIS AND WHY IS IT HERE 

It quickly becomes evident that this proofreading thing will be harder than you originally anticipated. A lot harder.

Still, you're a pro (you whisper to yourself), and you refuse to be defeated by one little novel, so you sit yourself in that chair and get to work. 

Every sentence is torture. How do you do the thing. 

Proofreading is not a walk in the park, you see. Proofreading has none of the charm of dashing through a first draft or the satisfaction of plowing through the numerous rewrites after that. Proofreading is rewriting's angry cousin that crawled its way up out of the depths of you-know-where. It means hours upon hours of laboring over the same chapter, going over the same sentence until your eyes bleed only to scrap the whole paragraph the next day.

This is the feeling you will experience most often on your journey
through the violent depths of proofreading. Have fun. 

Days pass. You're about five, maybe three chapters in. This has allowed you to see all the things that are wrong with the plot, but you choose to ignore those issues for once because the thought of rewriting things and therefore having to proofreading them again later makes you want to weep in public.

Get used to it. 

By the time you finish the draft you'll realize why proofreading is actually the worst thing ever invented. 

I really don't know right now. 

Proofreading, ladies and gentleman, is hard. 

But you shouldn't give up. 

You'll want to run away from your story forever, screaming about sentence fragments. 

You'll want to destroy the spellchecker on your computer because it is LIES, ALL LIES. (This is a horrific struggle for the fantasy writer especially, I've heard.) 

You'll want to never look at any grammatically incorrect sentence ever again. Or grammatically correct sentences. Or sentences of any kind. Or words. 

Keep at it.

Somehow, eventually, it'll be worth it.

Maybe. Assuming you survive the experience.

How do you cope with proofreading a novel? Have you ever tried it before? How did you survive (did you survive at all)? Comment away. 

36 comments

  1. I have never gotten as far as proofreading in the novel writing process...

    Now I'm not sure I want to.

    I got quite a few laughs out of this post and for the first time in my writing career I'm glad that I've still got about 20 million rewrites to go before proofreading. (Okay, maybe not exactly /glad/.)

    I'm assuming this was spawned because you are/were proofreading Pariah (or something)? *hands chocolate* Maybe that will restore your sanity...

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    1. Hahaha, yes, Pariah inspired this. And it's quite a painful process. *devours chocolate* But worth it in the end, I guess.

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  2. I ... actually like line edits. DON'T KILL ME. I guess line edits don't exactly equal proofreading, but I normally do these together? And I love making the words all mesh together nicely, and often that means bending grammar rules and whatnot, so I don't do them separately. Therefore I don't hate line edits?

    I only dislike line edits because, like you mention, normally halfway through I notice horrid structural issues that mean I have to restart.

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    1. Sighhhh I suppose I can forgive you, even if I still find them miserable.

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  3. Proofreading is the part of writing I loathe the most. I read the whole book out loud to catch all the stupid mistakes, so a few days in my voice decides that Russia is really nice this time of the year. My sanity follows a few days later. *sobs*

    And for some reason my previous comment got sucked into a cyberspace wormhole, so if two of my comments are floating around I apologize.

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    1. Right? I thought rewriting was bad but no, this pretty much takes the cake. *wails*

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  4. Ugh. So I totally agree with you, here, that proofreading sucks, but compared to rewriting, it's a WHOLE lot better. I'm not actually sure why, but trying to make better what you already wrote and just looking at all those scenes that need work... I can't stand it. : p

    Proofreading is probably one of the only things I'm good at in writing, so line edits are one of my favorite. Like Alyssa said.

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    1. I prefer rewriting, which is saying a lot xD Proofreading just takes soooo much time and I tend to get bored.

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  5. I like to print my work out and proofread on physical paper. For some reason it is WAY LESS MONOTONOUS than proofreading on the computer. And anyway, flipping through the many many hard earned pages of my masterpiece provides constant encouragement. And it may or may not make me feel like a more legitimate writer if I'm using a pen and pencil to mark up paper with tea and cookies by my side. It can actually be quite a pleasant experience!

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    1. Ooh, I bet that WOULD make it easier...I should try that sometime!

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  6. Oh dear, I haven't reached the proofread stage of my book yet. It's currently still a big MESS of awkward sentences, horrible wording... oh, and the occasional "what the heck needs to happen here" in red text for good measure. On one hand I'm sort of looking forward to rereading and editing it, but another part of me says BLAHHH.

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    1. Yeah, I feel ya...that's mostly the stage I'm in right now, since I'm rewriting AGAIN.

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  7. Thank you, so much, for making me dread proofreading. I barely pushed through the second drafts edits of my novel. I can't wait for proofreading! Although my poor novel certainly is going to need it.

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  8. Yuck, proofreading sounds awful (the way you describe it.) With no experience, I could guess if was easier than normal writing because at least you don't have to think about it, just fix stuff. But yuck. Thank you for this explanatory post (and yes, poor fantasy authors and spell check. Almost makes you want to write contemporary.

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    1. It sounds easier in theory, and sometimes it is, but it's very time-consuming and starts to wear on you after a while. *collapses*

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  9. I like proofreading other people's work. Just not mine. Haha.

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    1. Yeah, same. I just don't enjoy poring over the same thing I've been staring at for months.

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  10. My mom is actually a desktop proofreader, so I've always grown up in the proofreading tradition, so it doesn't seem bad for me at all. I'm fairly good at it, on my own and other people's writing, for an amateur anyway. I wish I could actually do proofreading, because I'm fine doing that, and not the other stuff. *sigh* Anyway, sorry proofreading isn't going well for you, but at least it's worth it. :)

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    1. I guess that would make it better -- I kind of loathe it (obviously) but I don't have any experience. :)

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  11. I've never proofreaded a novel, but I bet it's hard. Especially if you're writing one of those monster fantasy novel. I think the worst part isn't just your grammar and spelling mistakes, it's also the fact that you'll see once again what you've written and you may realize that you still need to change the plot/characters.

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    1. Yeah, I can't even imagine proofreading something longer than the novel I have now o.o And yes, that definitely happened while I was going over said novel of mine. It helps you catch a lot of stuff.

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  12. I've never proofread my work, namely because I can't seem to get much further than a little bit past the first draft. *heavy sigh* and yes, I usually wish to disable spell checker on Word only a few chapters in because YES I CAN MAKE UP NAMES BUT IT DOESN'T REALIZE THAT. *head bangs against wall* I can't imagine trying to proofread my drafts. Eugh. Good luck.

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    1. Good luck when you get to it, too. :P It's painful, but ultimately worth it.

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  13. I am doing it right now, and I am ready to through the entire book in the trashcan. It makes me feel like I don't do a thing right in this writing stuff.

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    1. I FEEL YA. *hands chocolate and tea/coffee*

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  14. Ugh, proofreading. This pretty accurately sums up my emotions I every time I need to proofread a uni assignment. At some points I'm so tired of proofing and exhausting my brain by reading the text so closely YET AGAIN that I have to take breaks every paragraph or so to make sure my head doesn't explode. I love the writing and the rewriting, but the proofreading? Yeah, nitpicking my own work is as fun as rolling in a nest of ants.

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    1. I think I took lots of breaks while proofreading Pariah...it's absolutely exhausting and makes you never want to look at the novel ever again.

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  15. *sigh* I'm at the proofreading part of my story now and it's so hard! I've been proofreading my story all. summer. I'm a horrible grammar person so that makes it even more difficult, but I'm surviving with my favorite spanish music, some Switchfoot, and maybe a little Skillet, along with chocolate and encouraging friends.

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    1. Awww, I feel ya! Grammar is difficult and I struggle with it a lot too, especially since some of my characters are challenged in that area so I also have to work with style and stuff. But Switchfoot cures everything.

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  16. Haha. XD I just proofread one of my novels not too long again. I did survive even though it too me 3-4 hours to edit 12 pages. XD

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. Ughhhh it takes so long. I applaud you, having gone through the process myself.

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    2. I like the process. I just don't like the time it takes haha. XD

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  17. I haven't yet made it to the proofreading part of a novel because so far all of my revising has been structural changes that involve complete rewrites and scrapping whole drafts, which is probably just as torturous as proofreading. Still, when it does come to proofreading a novel, I think I'll enjoy it because I'm a very style-oriented writer and I love trying to craft beautiful sentences. Actually, I'll probably have a love/hate relationship with it since it's really slow going. Then again, I have a love/hate relationship with everything about writing. It's a struggle.

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    1. Yeah, this is the first time I've actually gotten around to proofreading...I was surprised by how much I both loved and hated it. It's very satisfying but very, very frustrating.

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