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Editing and Proofreading -- by Steven Sweek

Dear reader, the difference between editing and proofreading (not many make the distinction) is that editing is the overall quality of the writing: language use is thoughtful and has an impact (each draft is better); expressions (metaphor and simile) are clearer than before; errors and in inconsistencies are removed (errors by reading aloud, inconsistencies by text highlights and listing); maximum effect with minimum  words. Proofreading is more tedious and very important for the overall readability of your text. Read carefully for spelling, grammar, verb tense, and typing mistakes to make a professional impression on the reader. Be consistent with language (high, medium, low--think of Falstaff and Hamlet for the difference); always make good writing into better and to best if you can (good is adequate and better pulls your reader into the text and best make your reader think about your ideas); be certain that your text looks good (same size and font) on the page and is ready to read by the public (includes page formatting that meets standards).

Those are the basics but important enough to spend a good deal of time on them. I use some tricks to be certain that I meet standards that we should all have in proofreading and editing. First, I do a global check. I read each paragraph to be certain of names, transitions, and descriptions. Then, I read the paragraphs as stand-alone text to test if it tells part of the story or is just filler or commentary. If they seem incomplete or clunky, spend as much time as required to rewrite. This goes for all paragraphs (sometimes I do this backward so that the plot does not interfere with the process). Second, I am very careful about word choice. The wrong word will connotate the wrong sympathy. For example, the difference between "idle" and "lazy" is at least three steps apart. Don't put up with "idle or lazy" words when a different one will say exactly what you want to say. For a second example, you have all heard the imploration to omit "There are..that" combinations. The reason is that There is in the subject position of the sentence and makes no sense. That is indifferent in its purpose so rewrite the sentence (replace There with the subject and That should disappear). 

My next discussion will be on sentencing.  You would think writing a sentence would be simple; we do it all the time. The difference between a sentence in a letter and one in literature is a rowboat next to a yacht. After all, the entirety of your story is a series of sentences. Make them effective and memorable and the story will be memorable.  Hope this was a good reminder, Steven Sweek

Posted by Steven Sweek 30 Apr at 03:12
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Responses to this blog

Cwotus 2 May at 06:57  
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Emerson was a careful and excellent writer — and a great speaker, I have no doubt, though I never heard him (I'm not that old yet) and I never read about his speaking — but I'm certain that he would absolve himself of being thought a fool because of his consistently good writing.

I would suggest in the self-editing phase to allow as much time as can be permitted between the draft and final review and touch-up and submittal. (These days of instant communication and short editing windows in online forums such as this one are a bane to careful writers. It's paradoxical that we have the means to write so quickly, edit so neatly and save text by the gigabyte ... but we only have a few minutes after posting to go back and make a necessary final edit, if we have that at all.) Sometimes I'll spend a good part of a day on an important email, writing and tweaking it just-so in the morning, reviewing it again after lunch for a final edit, and send. Then I regret it the next day when I finally see the typos, misspellings, subject-verb disagreements and other errors that I left in. Fortunately, I suppose, no one even reads my long, careful, technical emails ... Wait, what?

As for "getting the right word at the right time", Mark Twain is my go-to for an apposite quote in that regard: "The difference between the right word and the wrong one is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug."

I would add to the good advice above to REALLY read the work, every single word. I can't even count how many times, even on this site devoted to writers and the craft of writing, I've cringed at the use of "breath" for "breathe", "reign" for "rein", "toe-headed" (yes, even that) instead of "tow-headed" and the like, not to mention the ubiquitous their / there / they're, whose / who's, your / you're errors that most spelling programs (and some grammar programs) allow to get bye and buy.

To the quote about "hell is other people" I would add sometimes "hell is other people's writing ... and one's own, after the edit window has closed".

There are some elements of Steven's post that I don't understand, though, and that is the purpose of this particular sentence.
Andymather 2 May at 07:53  
Hi Cwotus,

This is the main reason I paid for a premium gold membership. It allows me to edit my stories while they are up for review. I can make corrections after each critique, so the next reader is spared my embarrassing errors.

Never utilize "utilize" when you can utilize "use".

Glitterpen 8 May at 06:09  
Great blog!
Kattheaxe 18 Jun at 18:13  
This all makes sense... do you think that there are different levels of editing, as well? I spent a while trying to edit a novel at one point, and I ended up developing a 4 step system. I would go through a passage and look for any major changes I felt were needed (i.e. removing a chapter), then editing on a paragraph level, removing blocks of text, writing new paragraphs, or shifting them around. Only then would I go back for the third step of tweaking sentences and words. Lastly I would proofread. I figured minutely editing a paragraph was a waste if good composition demanded it be thrown away entirely. Has anyone else developed a system like this?

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