Don’t Proofread Your First Draft

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Proofreading your first draft is the biggest waste of time for a writer. I see many writers, and even editors, focusing on this at the wrong times. Proofreading should be done right before publication. Too early is a time eater.

Most people sadly do not realize what proofreading is. That includes authors and publishers. They think that light editing is all that needs to be done. Not! There needs to be a final review to make sure the final product is ready for publication. That is where proofreading comes into play.

Proofreading is finding mistakes that the eye easily catches. It is punctuation, spelling, formatting, and visual mistakes. Are there too many spaces between words, sentences, or paragraphs? Did some weird thing happen where a @ showed up in one of the words instead of an ‘o’? Was the wrong homophone used? Is there a comma in the wrong place? Maybe a paragraph didn’t get indented while all the others did.

Proofreading is touch-up for the final print. That is not what you should be doing in the first draft. You’re not touching up. You’re tearing apart and reconstructing.

Focus of First Draft

What you need to be doing on the first draft is shaping the story. You’ve written the rough draft. That was pretty hard as it was. But now? Now you are wanting to take that lump of clay, for that is what it is, and begin to mold it. You see the potential, but it far from the final piece. Very far from the final piece.

If you are worried about where a comma is or if you used the right homophone, you’ll miss the bigger changes that need to take place. Look for inconsistencies in the story. See where you can add scenes and descriptions and where it would be better to remove some or even more them around within the manuscript. Focus on rewording sentences to make them sound tighter and flow smoother.

You’ll probably go through several drafts. As you get further along, you can start to fix those proofreading issues, but don’t focus on them until you are done. Don’t let them control you.

When to Proofread

Proofreading needs to be done at the end of the process. Some can be done as further edits are done, but focusing on the proofreading should be held off until after the manuscript is formatted for publication.

Proofreading before formatting is acceptable, but do it right before formatting once all other edits are complete. I would advise doing the proofreading then and once again after formatting as issues can arise with how software formats a book. Then proofread again in the final format whether it is print or digital. Look at the book on your Kindle or Nook to see if there are issues that need to be addressed. Order a proof copy to review and make changes to in your print version.

Keep in mind that the formatting for print is different than it is for digital versions. You don’t want page numbers in your Kindle version. Review it, and you might find one that escaped deletion. That is the purpose of proofreading. It catches all those little things that make the difference between a quality presentation.

A good thing is to have other eyes do the proofreading for you. That’s not saying you shouldn’t do some proofreading yourself, but you’ll overlook things others catch. I would advise having at least two other people proofread your book. You’ll find each person you reviews catching something.

Another thing to note is to verify what they say is correct. I had someone proofreading my final piece and kept wanting to put commas where they didn’t belong. She found many other legitimate mistakes, but I ignored her incorrect suggestions. Keep the Chicago Manual of Style handy for verification of comments and suggestions. Be aware of who knows correct grammar and punctuation.

Start off looking at the big picture of your manuscript and with each draft narrow the focus. At the end, you’ll proofread and present a quality piece of work to the reading public.

Proofreading is picky. Proofreading is tedious. It needs to be done when you are done with the big picture.

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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