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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone asked me the other day if it's true that he should never proofread his own work. Of course, I had an apoplectic response for him. Here it is.

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Are you kidding? Where on earth did you get that notion? If you don't proofread your own work, who will? And how will anyone catch those errors in logic and even in syntax of which only you as the author are aware? If you don't proofread your own work, how will you ever know if it's ready for Prime Time … or the wastebasket? If you don't proofread your own work, how will you ever advance in skills as a writer? Or even know if you're making headway?


Now, if your question is simply a matter of being poorly crafted and what you really meant to ask was, "Why shouldn't you be the only one to proofread your own work?" my response is simple. I can't begin to tell you if you haven't already figured that out on your own. I return to my opening statement: Are you kidding?


True, some authors are also professional editors, and some people who are neither authors nor editors are excellent proofreaders. Call it a fluke of nature. Call it kismet. Call it whatever you want. When I was Managing Editor of a national magazine based out of Chicago years ago, I would occasionally walk into an associate editor's office with a set of galley proofs dangling at my side (upside down, of course). I'd stop a few feet from the editor's desk, ask her a question, and chat for a while. Then, when I turned to leave, she'd say, "Oh, by the way, I hope you know there's a typo on page five, paragraph six, line four, word three of that galley. It should be 'sent' and not 'lent'." I never could understand that.


Upside down!


More remarkable still, when I got back to my office and double-checked my galley, I discovered she was right. Every … single … time.


Needless to say, most authors' eyes aren't that sharp, and neither are most editors'. Those whose are can go it alone quite nicely, thank you very much. Although it never hurts even those people to hire another set of blinkers to check things out. Just to make sure. Case in point:


Back in the days when I was a big Playboy reader, I used to marvel at how many sprawling issues of the monthly they'd bring out each year, and I never found a single typo. Not one. I'm talking five, six, even seven years running. I couldn't say that about my local newspaper, about Time magazine, or even about the New York Times. God forbid, just the opposite. The Times often had three or four typos on the very first page. Above the fold!


Then, one day, while I was reading an article in Playboy (the only reason people read the magazine back then, of course, was for the articles), I found one. Not a big one. Rather obscure. Totally insignificant. But that was enough to convince me that, even at Playboy, where no article went to bed without five or six or even seven sets of professional eyes proofing it beforehand, typographical errors could happen. And, that led me to my next revelation: You can't eliminate typos, I don't care who. Or what. Or where. All you can hope to do is to minimize them.


So, minimize them. And tell me who informed you that you should never proofread your own material, would you please? I have a course on Editing 101 to sell him through the mail. And charge him through the nose! In the meantime ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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 D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs weekly at Substack. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he's only human!)

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