I’m spending today driving home after visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday, so I didn’t have time to write my usual post. Instead here are some thoughts I had while I was working on getting my book ready for release.
Proofreading is always a pain in the rear that never really seems finished. Still, I find that simply doing a chapter every day or two helps keep the work from becoming overwhelming. Here are some tools I’ve made for myself to make sure I don’t end up in over my head while fixing things.
This is the primary tool I use to make sure I don’t forget to do anything or check for anything. It is just a simple list of tasks that I mark as done while moving along. The things on here will probably be different for everyone who uses one, but mine reminds me to remove certain verbal ticks, check for specific types of errors, and so forth. The last item is to give the piece a thorough read-through before sending it off to have another pair of eyes double-check my work.
Probably my most invaluable tool, this is just a list of all the mistakes I know that I commonly make and rules I have difficulty remembering. In every case examples of correct vs. incorrect usage are provided to help me a little more. For example, my sheet has a whole section devoted to comma usage as I’m always wondering if I should be putting more in or taking some out. This may seem a small thing, but it helps by keeping me from always having to look up the same rules over and over.
Sort of related to the Cheat Sheet, the Style Guide is just a set of notes to support a consistent style through the entire story. The goal of this document is to make sure every time the reader comes across certain terms or information it is presented in the same way even if others are technically correct too. This can be a big deal when it comes to things like titles, capitalization, use of abbreviation, or handling of foreign words. A good example of why this matters is you wouldn’t generally want to call half of your male characters “Mister So-and-So” while calling the other half “Mr. So-and-So.” It is generally better to pick one or the other and stick with it.
Am I really sure that word I picked is the one I intended? Or perhaps I want to look up the definition to compare the subtext to an alternative word. Or maybe I just found that there is a stretch of my story where a certain word gets used far too often and want to look for alternatives. For these things Dictionary.com is the place I tend to look.
Find & Replace
For very common, simple edits the Find & Replace tool is invaluable. I find it especially useful for commonly confused words. Put in the word “Affect” and hit find. For every instance that comes up double-check to make sure “Effect” isn’t what actually belongs there. If so, click replace. If not, simply find next. For these sorts of common/easy fixes the tool is great. I keep a whole list of these sorts of problems and can easily go through a huge document for each one without much effort. Personally I suggest saving these sorts of changes for last (although using “Find” by itself to find problems is perfectly fine).
Much as this program annoys me, it does prove useful sometimes. One major use I’ve found is as a tool to help give a final vetting of an otherwise finished project. I export a chapter I’m nearly finished with to MSWord and simply skim over the document looking for red and green underlines. Each time I see one I check them, making sure that there isn’t a problem. Most of the time there isn’t an issue, but inevitably I’ll find something I would have overlooked otherwise. Other times I am convinced to make changes, even if what I have is technically correct, because I realized I could write more clearly. This is the very last thing I do before handing off to someone else.