Tag Archives | editing

The Zen of Proofreading


I remember a couple of things about my study of Zen. The first was the importance of “beginner’s mind”. In his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki, the Zen master wrote:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.”

The other thing I remember is that even if you have cultivated your beginner’s mind, you may not be ready for the teacher to hit you with a bamboo stick after you’ve been sitting for several hours. It will be a welcome relief from numb bum anyway.

But when I think about proofing, I believe an empty mind is the best way to approach it. The longer you can let your writing sit, so that you can come back to it with an empty mind, the better.

I’m not saying I’m successful — if you’ve spent any time around The Skwib I’m sure you’ll have seen all kinds of proofing abominations. This is why I pay proofreaders to go over my long-form work. The Fridgularity had a half-dozen kind-hearted friends do the first rounds of proofing, and then I hired two separate proofers to correct my various linguistic crimes. (This was AFTER two editors also had a shot.)

But for the blog writing I do, I just don’t have the money or time for this approach. I can muster up the beginner’s mind, but that’s more so I can accept the fact that when I look at this post a year from now, I’ll see any number of problems.

At least there’s no bamboo pole waiting for me then.

Alltop thinks grammar is hilarious. Originally published June, 2013.

Why I still kill trees to proof manuscripts

my latest manuscript

I’m a big fan of printing when it comes to proofing you manuscript. I have a few reasons for this:


You get way more resolution on paper then you do with the average screen. I suppose if you’re looking at an e-ink reader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or iPad, you have similar levels of resolution, but with the latter technology, you still have the problem of image refreshing. (This is what happens with a backlit screen — the image is recreated over and over as you look at it.) I actually like my Kindle for reading because it doesn’t have that refreshing issue, and it behaves like paper. In fact, it’s not a bad choice for some proofing activities, but the problem with it is you can’t write on it.


Unlike the Kindle, paper allows me to scratch my thoughts, proofing marks and rewritten sentences right on the manuscript. The downside is that I still have to go back to the electronic file to make the changes, but the upside is I can noodle and doodle as I please. Plus, red pen!


Unlike electronic files, paper allows us to move back and forth in physical space. It’s easy to lose track of how long something is when we’re typing words in electronic ether, but when you see it in loose leaf paper, it’s obvious. That gorgeous paragraph, about the sunset and how its light reflects off the blonde hair of the protagonist’s lover? Well, it’s two pages long and it has to go.

The Bearable Weightiness of Prose

For those of you who are not guaranteed of being published, this may be as good as it gets. I’ve written at least two novels for which this is true. (I can’t account for the future, so at some point it may be more than two.) There is just something so real about looking at that big stack of paper, filled with lines and lines of your words. You wrote that, motherfucker! Good for you!

Please sign up for my newsletter, The MonkeySphere, for a chance to win a Kindle ($139 Amazon gift card). It’s a great tool for drafts, but you should still have a paper copy nearby for edits. You can get more chances to win if you buy my other novels, The Amadeus Net or Marvellous Hairynh. Full details on the contest here.