The next best alternative to investing money in professional proofreading is investing your own valuable time. So here are three time-intensive, but proven strategies to polish your manuscript.
1) Change your reading patterns.
The goal here is just to get out of your comfort zone and trick your mind into believing you’re working on something new. One of the most difficult proofing obstacles for an author to overcome is their intimacy with the story. Our brains can’t help but strive for efficiency in all things, and that grey sponge sure loves solving puzzles.
So while you’re struggling to meticulously dissect a tale you’ve spent months sweating over and have nearly memorized, your overzealous noggin’ is helping you to death. Rather than flagging errors, your mind tries hard to gloss over all those typos, odd commas and homonyms. Your sub-conscious is so ruthlessly task-oriented that it just corrects minor mistakes without fuss and passes a summary to the head office. It’s an impressive feet, four shore, butt annoying aztec. The following basic steps will help kick you out of your comfort zone and refocus your mind.
a) Conduct your proofreading away from the computer screen, using a different medium than you prefer for pleasure reading. For example, if you usually read hardcopy books, then proofread on an Ereader or mobile device. For Ebook lovers, go old school and print out the manuscript.
b) Review with extra-large text. If you print your book, then use at least an 18-point font. If you’re proofing on an electronic device, then zoom in two levels or more than normal.
c) Expose only the line you’re reading. Again, the subconscious loves to skip well ahead of what we can consciously process and feed our brains what they expect to read, rather than what’s really there. Use a sheet of paper or ruler to block out the next line so your mind stays laser-focused.
2) Read backwards. For sentence-level clarity, start reading from the end. Tackling every line, or at least each chapter, in reverse is tiresome and confusing, no doubt, but that’s the point. The goal here is to strip away all context, narrative and even logical consistency, so you can focus on each sentence in isolation. Swim against the current instead of just floating along and you’ll smash into plenty of flotsam that would have otherwise sailed past.
3) Dictate and transcribe. This is the heavy artillery, but it does work wonders if you have the time. Most computers have free software already installed that can read the text out loud, such as Narrator for PC or Text to Speech for the Mac. As the computer dictates, simply transcribe the text into a new manuscript. Awkward phrasing and typos are amplified and ring out every time the narrator stumbles.