Guys and gals, I have one of those things to make.
A concession? A regression? A Congressional appeal?
No, no. A confession. Yes. Confess, sins, all that.
I am a bad proofreader. Note that I didn’t say that I am bad at proofreading. I’ve spent far too many hours studying language, grammar, syntax, and abusing the “format painter” in MS Word to be lacking the requisite skills. My badness comes from my impulsive heart, not my literary brain.
When it comes to proofreading, I don’t apply consistent attention or emphasis. Often I’ll be so happy with myself that I finished something, that I think one quick read-through is enough before I put my greedy little mouse cursor all over the “publish” button. Other times I’m overly confident in my ability to translate thought to finger movement to letters to sentences. I couldn’t possibly have made a mistake, I typed everything so deliberately.
But low and bend and behold and be humble; almost all of my posts appear on the internetz with typos. Errors. Poorly placed prepositional phrases. Sometimes even gross homonymic misspellings. For that, I apologize.
I should have no excuse (but of course I do). Proofreading is at least half of what I do to pay the bills. I am personally responsible for making sure important things like status reports and new-work proposals look and sound good.
When so much is on the line, how dare I let a passive construct through on my turn to stand guard? Who do I think I am?
It has nothing to do with attention to detail, fatigue, or how boring the particular thing you’re proofreading is. Through a highly thorough, empirical scientific process, I have discovered that the reason that I (and everyone who struggles with this) am a bad proofreader, is because there are anti-proofreading goblins living inside of my brain.
And their will is bent on making me miss shit that should otherwise not be missed.
The goblins never stop. They will crawl around just behind your eyes, making sure you skip over that incorrect possessive apostrophe, and right when you’re about to see that “a” before a vowel that should be an “an” they’ll poke the distraction center of your brain with a #2 pencil.
But don’t feel bad. Even the President of the United States is afflicted with APF goblins.
The first step to fighting them is to accept them. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes in proofreading. You tried, it’s not really your fault.
But when you do make a mistake. Learn from it. Remember where the goblins like to mess you up, when, and why. Eventually, you’ll be onto their game, and they will have a harder and harder time tripping you up.
Make sure you do you best to proofread everything. Emails, YouTube comments, Fark.com thread posts, anything. The more you proofread, the more the goblins have to work. Eventually you’ll tire them little bastards out.
A few other helpful tricks to keep the goblins on their toes:
-Proofread out loud. Somehow the process of using three different parts of your brain by reading, saying, and then hearing what you’re reading can really help catch hidden mistakes. This is also great for improving the cadence and readability of your work, which the goblins just hate.
-If you’re struggling with line-by-line edits, read your piece backwards. I know, it sounds odd. But read each word individually from end to start, and you can review it as a standalone word, not part of the piece. Your brain tricks you into filling in blanks when you proofread because you know what it is supposed to say. Reading backwards confuses the shit out of the goblins.
-Have someone else read your work. I know, you are awesome, and clearly don’t need any outside help. But think of the goblins. Other people have different types of goblins and sometimes their goblins won’t see what your goblins did. And vice versa.
-Study. This may seem tedious, but really, do it. Get your hands on Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, Walsh’s Lapsing into a Comma, Truss’s Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, and O’Conner’s Woe is I. Reading about grammar and style may seem boring, but if you’re a writer (or deign to call yourself one), it is a necessary evil. Grammar is the math of writing.
-Be deliberate when you proofread. Proofread with a vengeance! Make it mean something to your writing. It is so easy to just say, “welp, close enough”, but an editor will see right through that. Remember that poor proofreading will sink a great piece faster like a pair of leaden Pumas. Don’t let your talent be hidden behind silly mistakes.
That said, feel free to post in the comments any and all of the mistakes you catch in this post. My goblins are on fire today.
P.S. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Phil over at beatbox32 (a talented, aspiring writer who is quite eloquently and thoughtfully chronicling his painful attempts to improve his craft whose blog you should definitely check out) for giving me some of the ideas to write this post.