A Key to Copyediting and Proofreading

Someone asked me today how long it takes me to write a blog, and I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it takes me about three hours from start to finish. I read once that a blog should take no more than twenty minutes to write, but that doesn’t make sense to me. How can anyone write anything of worth in so short a time, especially if a bit of research is involved? Still, three hours seems excessive, though to be honest, at least half of that time is taken up with editing and proofreading.

Proofreading is a problem for all of us, whatever we write — novels, newsletters, blogs. Our brains are structured to see what isn’t there, to fill in the blanks, to rearrange letters and words to make sense. I’m ssre you hvae seen a demontrasion lkie tihs keybefroe, a clveer gcimmik ot sohw you waht I am takling aoubt — that the brain can read jumbled words as long as the first and last letters are in the right place. (At least to a certain extent — sometimes it takes a while for us to make sense of what we are seeing.) Our brains are trained to see whole words. If we have to read each letter, laboriously spelling out the word, by the time we have finished reading two or three words, we would long since have forgotten what we’d already read.

This ability to read works against us when we write, or rather when we edit or copyedit because it’s so hard to pick out misspelled words even with a spell checker, especially if the misspelling is a real word in itself. Tow and toe, for example. Or point and paint. Even worse, we see the center of things. Our brains fill out the edges, and so often, that’s where we find errors — on the top two lines of a page, the bottom two lines, the first and last word on a line.

I know a few keys to improve your copyediting. The best way, of course, is to get someone else to do it. We know what we want to say, so our text makes sense to us no matter how convoluted it is, but so often fresh eyes find mistakes we missed every time we read it. If you have to do your own copyediting, you can work from the end of the piece to the beginning — that way you don’t get caught up in the brilliance of your own rhetoric. You can pay particular attention to the edges of your text, doing the edges as a separate edit, or you can temporarily make the text a different size. If you normally use 12pt Times New Roman, switch to 14 or 16 point. That way the words that were at the edges of the page have been moved to a different place, which makes it easier to see mistakes. (You have to change the size of the font, not merely zoom to a larger view because zooming doesn’t change the placement of words.)

Using these copyediting suggestions, I can improve my text and make sure there are few errors, but doing the whole thing still takes me three hours. No wonder I don’t have time for working on my novels!

[Click here to find out Why Mistakes Happen]


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.