Careful proofreading is painful – but doable


I want to:

1) have no typos in my published work, and

2) avoid pain.

These aims are incompatible.

Proofreading your own work: a professional promise

I just proofread an important letter I am writing to a corporation for a subject of public advocacy that is apparently something only I can do (if it fails, you will hear about it).

Two pages.

I’ve been writing it for two years.

A very nice German fellow who discovered something similar and wrote blog posts about it, requiring a major worldwide corporation to mend its ways, was kind enough to help me, and worked with me on the letter. A year ago. Yes, I’m that slow.

Needless to say, with that many iterations between two people, in English but with a German correspondent (whose English is far superior to my almost non-existent German) on one end, the document had a lot of tiny gotchas where things had been moved around, edited, deleted…

I almost rewrote from scratch – but would have lost many of the nuances we’d built in. No go.

Add in brain fog. It took a long while.

The mechanics of proofing, newbie version

So I threw it up, latest version, on the screen.

And I started into it with all the tools of the proofreader:

I changed the font – edited, took a screenshot after making the corrections [s].

I changed the font size [s].

I changed to italics – found out the new font didn’t have italics – lost all my formatting. So I replaced with a different font, and located the things which needed to be bolded for emphasis again [s].

I turned on Speech in Scrivener, and went bonkers trying to turn it off when it brought the first error into my ken. Speech is at the bottom of the edit menu, and has no keyboard shortcut.

I went into the preferences, edited the formatting bar to include the Speech icon.

I selected paragraphs one at a time – then Speech only reads the selected text. Whew. Much better [s].

NOTE: hearing your text read to you, even by the pretty-good speech facility, is excruciatingly painful.

I printed it on paper – oddly enough, that didn’t work for me, no more typos found – or maybe I should have started there.

It hurts – the pain is probably good for your character

I couldn’t face the job. Procrastination, according to Alan Lakein (How to get control of your time and your life) occurs for two reasons: the task is Overwhelming. Or the task is Unpleasant.

This was both. I’m only doing it because it is my duty as a citizen, and said corporation could squash me like a bug merely by waving an attorney or two at me.

I hope they don’t.

The results of proofing are worth the effort.

I did the job. Two letter pages, closely argued. Trying to sound intelligent and committed and with further resources to sic on them if they give me trouble (y’all will help, right?)

The letter is in the outgoing mailbox (snail mail).

My stomach still hurts.

Celebrate! Always celebrate victories, however small!

I celebrated with mozzarella sticks for lunch.

I cannot imagine proofreading a 150K word novel this way.

And that’s next week’s task. Ouch. Even with lots of promised help (thanks, Lily).

Proofing tips that have worked for you but are not on the regular lists? Favorite tips for proofreading? Thanks!

Thanks to for the quote software with the pretty text and pictures.

14 thoughts on “Careful proofreading is painful – but doable

  1. Catana

    Always something new to learn about in Scrivener! I had no idea it can read text. Tried it out and it works. Not sure how useful it will be in editing because it puts emphasis in the wrong place nine times out of ten. But I suppose I can get used to it. It’s using Apple’s software, of course, maybe better than the average, but still disturbingly robotic. I did put it in the tool bar, just in case. I do all my editing and revision in Composition mode, large text, and if I’m feeling really in need of better focus, a different font. I also downloaded instruction for transferring text files to my KIndle. I tried using the computer KIndle app for proof reading, but I hate being tied to the computer for long sessions.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I think all Mac applications can read text if the application doesn’t block it somehow.

      The robot voice IS the point. Remember, this is in a proofing post.

      Amazing how some people have no idea what proofing is – they mix it up with all kinds of editing, up to and including developmental editing. Any proofreader getting distracted by plot holes isn’t doing his job, which is to look for misspellings and missing periods.

      I can’t listen to the robot voice for huge blocks of time, but it works well for a section at a time, with or without my eyes closed (depending on need). If it sounds reasonable when read by a robot – it must be okay!The robot does parse properly at punctuation, so you can see how long or convoluted sentences are going (I minimize those, but dang it, I think that way, and sometimes you just have to let ‘er rip).

      If I wanted a better voice and reading, I might get my DragonSpeaks up and running again. It’s on the list.

      I think more modern Kindles will also read to you, robotically. My Kindle is tiny and basic; I don’t think it talks.


      1. Catana

        I did notice how it responds to punctuation. I had either a comma or period in the wrong place, and I could hear that. But, like you, I don’t think I could listen to it for very long.


  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Good on you for being a good citizen, Alicia. Thank you!

    Regarding typos… I’m pretty good at spotting those committed by others. I’m wretched at spotting my own. I don’t even try with my fiction, because it has been demonstrated to me that I’m simply no good at it.

    Luckily I have a sweet sister-in-law who is crackerjack at finding typos and who is willing to help me out of the goodness of her heart. She says that she likes my stories, and this way she gets to read them sooner than if she had to wait until release day.

    I think she is simply generous and kind. 😀


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I think the trick is that, if you control it yourself, you can take the typos found OUT, without introducing NEW ones.

      I have always been suspicious of other people processing my files – it seems new errors keep getting introduced.

      Now, I’m not perfect, but I am careful – I don’t want to have to re-proof something after fixing it.

      The two page letter? FIXING the typos sometimes meant rewriting for meaning; rewriting always introduces the possibility of new errors; so triple proof anything that has had changes in it – that’s where new errors can lurk.

      Let’s see how we I do when it’s my turn – I think I way overestimate my ability to hunt these little rodents down.


  3. clairechase51

    Yay Alicia!!! One more thing accomplished. I hope the letter brings the desired response.

    When I proof read, I always change the text into a larger font, read out loud and make an effort to not just read the words, but understand what the words are saying. I am assuming most people do that, still you asked… 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I get lost in my own prose – which is why having the robot voice is so useful: he DOESN’T have my deathless prose in his head (RAM? Hard Drive?), so he CAN’T say a word which isn’t there – but I sure caught him skipping it.

      And I get lost in my prose EVERY time I read it – or I would have caught some of them before.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks a lot! You don’t think I’m insane enough already?

      I will have the capacity to correct those errors if I self-publish. I’m thinking to keep them in a file, and correct them every time I have more than, say, 10 or 20. And some extra time. Ha!

      Or every 1000 copies sold, Or some such.

      I was thinking of a Wall of Typo Fame on my blog for those who first find an error that I agree to correct.

      Let me get the whole danged thing published first – I still have a lot of primary writing to do.

      Maybe insane will help there.

      Liked by 1 person


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