Proofreading should be done after you’ve completed the manuscript. When you’re writing, you want to just get your story down on paper. Let the words flow as they come to you, worry about editing later.
When you do get to the editing stage, don’t get upset or worried if sentences, paragraphs, or even scenes are deleted or moved about. This is common, and nothing to worry about. Really, you should worry if you proofread and change almost nothing. I don’t know of any writer – myself included – who can write a perfect manuscript the first time through. Even if you edit as you write, you need to go back and recheck everything. Thrice.
To check for spelling
A simple way of checking for spelling errors in short fiction – short shorts, short stories, and novelettes – is reading your manuscript backwards, one word at a time. This stops your brain from “skimming” over content, filling in the blanks or transposing of syllables. It’s easy to see a word and recognize the first few and last letters and have your brain interpret the word as it should be, not as it is. For example:
If you can raed this then yuo can undrestnad what I’m takling abuot.
I wouldn’t recommend reading novel-length pieces backward. It can be very confusing and would take far too long. Instead, just make sure to read each sentence slowly and check for errors as you go.
Words, their usage, and their necessity
If you’re not sure of a word, look it up. Do not just stick it in, because if you’re second guessing – there’s a big chance it’s wrong.
Make sure you have the correct usage of each word, such as “there” and “their,” “steal” and “steel.”
Adverbs can be your friend if used right, but if you mess up they can screw you. There is a difference between something being “quick” and “quickly,” as there is a difference between “slow” and “slowly.” Make sure you check your verbs, adverbs, and adjectives and that you’ve used them correctly and in the right tense.
It’s ok if your characters’ dialogue is not correct – as long as you are consistent throughout the book. If not, it will just look like you’d messed up.
Makes notes/tables of all name spellings of places, characters (particularly surnames) and any alien/magical beings. It’s easy for a name to “shift” from one spelling to another over the course of a novel, especially names with multiple spellings such as Tristen (Tristan) or Brittany (Brittnee).
Language and dialect are other items to be especially careful of. If you’re giving your character an accent, or a certain dialect, make sure the character talks the same throughout the book. If you change the way they say “your” to “yer,” be careful to not let a “your” or “you’re” slip in.
If you plan to use an “earth” dialect, or one that is currently in use today such as Pidgin, Creole, or what have you, do your research. There’s nothing like reading a book and having an author try to pass of some changed spellings or sentence wording as a dialect – it’s upsetting. Especially for the people that actually do speak with that specific dialect.
So how do you keep from making these mistakes?
Well, no matter how careful you are or edit several times, mistakes are bound to happen. You wrote the book, and while you try your best to go through carefully and edit, your “mind’s eye” will sometimes skim over words and sentences because you remember what it is you wrote – therefore missing possible mistakes.
Below are a few other ways of catching errors in a manuscript:
Read out loud. When you’re forced to say the words on the page your brain is forced to slow down and concentrate on what is really there. Also, by reading out loud you may find things like awkward sentences and choppy.
Get someone else to read it. They’re a fresh pair of eyes, with no bias towards the story (at least you should find someone with no bias to read it). They should be able to tell you if there are major plot problems, whether they believed the characters, and well, really if the book was good or not.
Hire someone to edit. Not everyone can do this – and not everyone should. If you have a great story to tell, but your writing skills are lacking, you may want to hire an editor to help you out. A hired editor/proofreader can help you tune up your story, and get it into shape before submitting. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend hiring an editor for everyone; they can be expensive, and if it’s just proofreading for spelling errors it could be a lot of money spent on something you could just take an extra week or two doing.
Join an online writer’s group. I really believe that online writers groups, such asWriting.com, Firstwriter.com, and thenextbigwriter.com can prove to be invaluable. is free to join and use, though I’m not sure of the up-to-date policies on the other two (if anyone knows, please comment and let me know!). Writing groups can allow you to post some of your work, and get critiques and opinions from other readers/writers. employs a rating/review system, where reviewers can leave a 1-5 star rating as well as a review, and you can choose to make it public or private on your portfolio. Sites like these help build communication and presentation skills, and allows interaction with other writers.