The Importance of Proofreading

I’m sorry there wasn’t a post last week. We had a family visit, which was delightful. I chose to dive into that time instead of hang out in my writer’s head. Family is important to me. That fact shines out in every one of my books. When I have the opportunity to catch up with my tribe, I try to take it. But now they’ve gone home, and here I am again in my writer’s bed, the visit over, happy to be here.

Oftentimes when people think of writing a book, they imagine the moment when the writer triumphantly types THE END at the end of her manuscript. It’s seen as the end of the process, but there’s so many other steps before and after that (terribly important) moment. So today I wanted to write about another step near the end of this dance of creating a book, proofreading.

When I finished my first novel, Joy Returns!, I imagined I could cut costs by proofreading my manuscript myself. After all, I had a BA in English. I was trained as an editor. Certainly I could succeed at this task. But I didn’t. I published that book and then began to see errors. How many times did I have my production person take down my book, make the corrections, and publish it again? It’s all a horrifying blur now, but my guess is five. Even after that, a dear friend read the book, loved it, but said, “I found mistakes. I made a list. Would you want it?” Well, of course, I did. The idea that my beloved book was out in the world with a list of errors just felt horrible to me. I checked over what she found. The mistakes were indeed there. I sent over the list to my production person who somehow remained cheery through this whole process. That was when I had to admit that I was not capable of proofreading my own work.

I’m sure that some writers can pull that task off, but I would bet that most people would be on board my boat. We are too invested in our book. We literally can’t see it any more. It’s time to turn it over to someone we trust who has eagle eyes and a love for nitpicky detail to pore over our work.

And even then there are often mistakes. How can that be? I’ve decided that books have a sense of humor. They delight in having that imperfection, that moment where they break the mold and have their pimple, the missing preposition, the absent period, the quotation mark that goes the wrong way. “All these humans studied me, and I still got away!” I try to laugh when I spot them later. Then I ask my production person to correct it, so I can move forward towards that maddening quest of perfection.

For the rest of my books, I’ve worked with a proofreader. She is wonderful and exacting, and, yet in the end, I am still the ultimate authority. I look over all her suggestions, and I make decisions. Recently, I went over her comments for my upcoming book, The Sharpest Claw. Before that occurred, my proofreader told me that there were very few errors, that she thought the book was great. I imagined it to be a quick, easy process to approve the changes, but it wasn’t. it was painful and difficult. There were lots of things I felt I needed to fix. I despaired over everything. This is my fourth novel. I have never before considered proofreading to be a deeply dark, emotional process, but that was my experience this time. It felt like writer’s stage fright—my book is about to be out in the world. I’m scared to death. So I let myself feel that, and then I thought back on writing this book, the ups and downs, the time, the discoveries, the happiness when I figured something out, and I picked up my manuscript and went back to work. The Sharpest Claw, Book 2 of the Cats of the Afterlife series, will be out in September.