Why Proofreading and Editing are Essential Steps Toward Better Writing
Some of the greatest writers throughout history have said that writing is revising. That’s where the work is polished and fine tuned so that it shines and strikes a chord with readers. A piece of writing enters the proofreading and editing phase as a lump of coal and it comes out a diamond.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every individual should do things his or her own way. Each of us has to find the genre that fits, the notebook that’s most comfortable, and the writing process that clicks. But there’s no alternative to proofreading and editing. It’s something we all have to do.
A rough draft is just that — rough. And when you put a rough piece of writing out there for people to read, it will feel to them like a piece of wood that hasn’t been sanded. It’s jagged, edgy (not in a good way), misshapen, and unpleasant to the touch.
Yet many writers continue to share, publish, and distribute their work before they’ve even given it a once-over. I don’t know if they think they got it right on the first pass, can’t be bothered with cleaning up their own mess, or simply don’t care about their work or their readers.
Proofreading and editing are essential steps in the writing process. Whatever your process is, proofreading and editing must be included because nobody gets it right on the first try (okay, maybe one in a million). Even when material has been revised, edited, and proofread several times, a typo or two can slip through. Just the other day I was reading an encyclopedia and right there on the second page was a glaring typo. I’d guess that encyclopedia was reviewed by the writers plus a team of editors and proofreaders. So just imagine how many mistakes are in a piece of your writing that hasn’t been edited or that you’ve only given a cursory proof.
For the Love of Creation
Creativity is a strange and wonderful phenomenon. Some of us are born to make things, and we do it because we love our work. We are passionate about poetry and fired up over fiction. Don’t we love our work enough to make it shine as brightly as possible? When I read work that hasn’t been polished, I get the sense that the writer is not really working. It’s all fun and games, sitting around coming up with rhymes and making up stories. But the craftsmanship, the work, is in the detail. It’s in the proofreading and editing. If all you want to do is have fun, go to a bar or a ballgame.
Nothing says “I’m unprofessional” like a rough draft that has been turned in, submitted, or otherwise shared or published. If there’s one reason I’m relieved I never became an editor at a magazine or newspaper, it’s that I don’t have to suffer through page after page of lazy, unpolished writing. This is why editors rarely offer feedback on why they reject so many submissions. They figure if the writers can’t take the time to polish their work, the editors shouldn’t waste their time doing anything more than sending a polite, canned rejection slip.
Some young or new writers will wonder why they should belong to a writing group or participate in a workshop if they have to do all their own editing and find their own mistakes. When you clean up your work before getting feedback, the person who’s providing feedback will be able to provide you with a response that is more insightful. If you already know how to use quotation marks, contractions, and how to differentiate between passive and active voice, feedback that points these things out won’t make you a better writer. It’s just someone else telling you where to point your vacuum cleaner when you have a perfectly good set of eyes and can see the dirt for yourself. Your writing group and workshop should function more like a carpet cleaner. They go through and find the stuff you can’t see, the stuff you don’t know, not the stuff you were too lazy to look for.
Know Your Trade
Occasionally, I come across a writer who doesn’t like editing and would prefer to pay someone else to do it. These writers usually have the greatest trouble with grammar and mechanics, and they don’t want to learn. They just want someone else to fix it. I’m happy to help, but I’m always left wondering why a writer wouldn’t want to know the tools of his or her trade. That’s kind of like a plumber who doesn’t know the difference between a wrench and screwdriver.
Respecting Your Readers
Readers, however, are the most important reasons why every writer should proofread and edit. By readers, I don’t simply mean the folks who buy books and magazines. Readers are also your teachers, members of your workshop or writing group, and even your friends and family. It’s almost a matter of etiquette — it’s disrespectful to ask someone to read your sloppy rough draft or a project you’ve only reviewed once or twice. If you don’t take time to polish your writing, why should anyone make time to read it?
Proofreading and Editing Are Essential to Better Writing
For all of these reasons (and I’m sure, many more), proofreading and editing are essential to producing writing that is polished, professional, and publishable. When you proof and edit your own work, typos will still slip through. I’ve heard several authors talk about reading their own published work years later and finding all kinds of problems that they wish they’d caught before it went to print. And they had high-level, professional editors!
Most of us don’t have a team of experts. We’re all busy. We all make mistakes. But if we can’t make time to do our best, then why bother writing at all?
Can you think of any other reasons why proofreading and editing are so important? What other actions lead to better writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.