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Proofread!

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I’ve read so much internet fiction over the last few weeks, 97% of which suffers from the same annoying, amateurish problem.

Lack of proofreading.

Definition of “proofread” according to Merriam-Webster: to read and correct mistakes in (a written or printed piece of writing).

When you finish writing a manuscript, the manuscript is not finished. It is a first draft at that point, and as we all learned in school (or so I thought), the first draft is not the final draft. When you finish writing a manuscript, that means it’s time to proofread it for:

  • Misspelled words (“misspell”, not “mispell”)
  • Correctly spelled wrong words (using “their” instead of “there”)
  • Grammar mistakes
  • Punctuation mistakes (consult the back of the dictionary)
  • Rearranging sentences/paragraphs/events to make the story flow more smoothly
  • Double-checking facts
  • Double-checking word choice (“Use the correct word, not its second-cousin” — Mark Twain)
  • Cutting out redundancies
  • Cutting out any superfluous thing that doesn’t advance the story
  • Cutting any words that simply aren’t needed (“Say what you want to say in as few words as possible”)
  • Anything else that can improve the manuscript, which I may have forgotten at the moment of writing this

Even when you’re just writing an email to someone, or leaving a comment, proofread it at least once before you submit. When writing a manuscript, you need considerably more proofreading time before you’re ready to submit it anywhere. You really should be proofreading your manuscript twice a day until you no longer find yourself fixing anything: it is at that point you have your final draft.

As you write your first draft, try this: every time you finish writing a paragraph, stop and proofread it before advancing to the next. Do the same for every conversation and every scene, until you finish the current chapter (or manuscript if it’s a work of short fiction), at which point you should then proofread the entire chapter once. When you’re done, call it a night and return to the manuscript the next day. When the entire manuscript is finished, proofread it from end to end until you can read through the whole thing without catching a single mistake, nor a single passage that can be improved (spoiler: this will take several weeks at a bare minimum). At that point, print the manuscript and proofread it again — you’d be surprised how many mistakes you catch when reading the same story in a different form. Also try changing the font and proofreading again.

If you have insecurities as a writer that make you wishy-washy about whether your work is ever good enough, do it anyway. Eventually you’ll figure out what your “good” writing is and what it isn’t.

And if you’re too lazy to put in the work to be a decent writer, keep your shitty fantasies to yourself.

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