Tag Archives | proofing

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.

Three kick-ass e-reader uses: a writer’s list

typesetting blocks

There’s tons of advice out for how to use your e-reader more effectively, but I thought I’d throw out this short list because these things have changed my life. They’ve certainly altered the way I engage with text and they’ve helped me – in some way – to become a better writer. And finally, they’ve given me mental powers that would blow your mind out your nasal cavity.

1. Discover New Work

If you’re like me, I’m always on the lookout for books that may add to my repertoire – either new approaches to fiction, good storytelling, or non-fiction that helps me understand an issue, so I can include it as a theme in my work. The problem is my mental powers do not include as prodigious a memory as I would need to actually remember all of the books that I have heard of online or elsewhere. My e-reader (which is a Kindle, but this works for other devices too) is a great help here. As soon as I hear or read something about a book that sounds of interest to me, I look it up on Amazon, and send the sample to my device. (You could do this with Nook, Kobo, etc. too.) Then, the next time I spark up my reader, I can check out the sample, and decide if the book is something I want to buy and read.

One of the greatest discoveries I’ve made this way is Debt, The First 5000 Years, which I learned about in a comment on another book.

2. Make Web Reading Manageable

Okay, you’ve had 25 tabs open in your browser at the same time, admit it. Maybe you have more self control, but I quite often find lots of interesting, long articles that I would like to read, and I have good intentions, I really do. But more often than not, those tabs are still open when I reach the end of my writing day, and I close down my browser. No more. Learn the magic of sending web content to your ereader. Now here, I have concrete advice for Kindle readers. Use Chrome or Firefox as your browser, and get the Send to Kindle plugin. [Chrome plugin here, Firefox plugin here.] Works great, and now just like I do for discovery, I have a chance to read all those great articles I don’t have time for during the work day. I’ve you’ve got another kind of e-reader, it’s a bit more complicated. Lifehacker has your back, though.

3. Editing Your Work With Your E-Reader

This is for those of you who don’t want to kill a lot of trees, but who understand the importance of reading your work on paper. It’s just too easy to miss typos, grammatical mistakes, repeated words and other literary outrages if you only edit and proof on the screen. But if you’ve got a long document, like a novel, that can add up to a lot of paper and toner. I use my Kindle to proof. The higher resolution makes it easier to read and catch mistakes. Plus, because I’m reading so much on it already, the Word file I send to my e-reader feels more like a finished product. And so, I see the errors.

Bonus tip: I also then read the work aloud. That’s right. Out loud. Not just whispered, but I read it as though I’m belting it out to a packed audience of enthusiastic fans. I perform the hell out of it. It sounds goofy, but this will also help you discover where you have problems with wording, rhythm, and grammar.

Alltop is a world-class plagiarism machine. Photo by Miria Grunick via Flickr

Now, why not throw one of my books on your e-reader?

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.