The Proof is in the Pudding

Did you know that the human eye vibrates very rapidly?  The signal your eyes send to the brain reflects this movement.  But our brain automatically corrects for it and thus we see a clear, non-shaking image.  That’s quite an amazing talent the brain has, but it can also be a nightmare for the creative person.

Penguin on the Mountain by Neal Wooten

For example, I had just completed a huge 44” square painting of a mountainside with a cityscape in the background and big lonesome dead tree in the front.  I stepped back to admire it as my wife walked up to see it for the first time.  She laughed and asked, “Why does it have a penguin?”

Once she said it, I could see it plainly.  The contours of the landscape made a huge image appear that closely resembled a penguin.  But I got the last laugh; I left it as-is and changed the name of the painting to “Penguin on the Mountain.”

The same thing happens to writers as the brain corrects errors.  That’s what makes it so hard to proofread your own work.  Your brain thought it up, so it surely knows how the story goes.  As you read the manuscript and come across a typo, you brain can literary change what you see and make it appear right.

What I if told you that you read the first part of this sentence wrong?  Get the picture?

Here’s a tip I’ve given to a lot of authors: If you’re going to proofread your own work, do it from back to front. Start with the last line of the last chapter, read it, then go up to the next sentence, and so on. This way the story doesn’t flow the way your brain was expecting and it can’t compensate. That’s right, as clever as the brain is, you can still trick it.

My advice is also to show your manuscript to as many people who are willing to read it. You might be surprised at which friends have a knack for catching errors. Most of us know teachers we can annoy until they agree to read it. I have several teachers from high school who love to be my proofreaders.

These are some things you can do other than hiring a person or company to proofread for you.  If you can afford that, go for it.  It’s well worth it.  When I learned how much they charge, I asked if they had a lay-away option.

But whatever you do, don’t simply assume it’s not important.  Don’t think readers will become so engrossed in your wonderful story that they won’t mind the errors.

The Star Spangled Banner has a wonderful message that moves me deeply, but I still hate to hear someone deliver it poorly.

Neal Wooten, Publisher/Indie Author/Illustrator/Cartoonist

Managing Editor; Mirror Publishing, Milwaukee, WI,
Author of Reternity,

Posted by on June 11, 2012. Filed under Books,Business,Neal Wooten. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

17 Responses to The Proof is in the Pudding

  1. I like to read it upside down. I can always see spelling errors and sometimes see punctuation errors upside down.
    Thank you Neal!

  2. Sarah Mamika

    June 12, 2012 at 4:13 am

    Great article, Neal, and so important. It’s amazing how you can read right over your own glaring mistakes yet instantly see someone else’s.

  3. Irma Jacobs Tirro Author of The Lonely Snowflake and It's Almost Friday

    June 12, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Great words of wisdom that we should not just tuck away in our minds but actually use, or think of them, every time we “edit” our own work. I think we might all be surprised.

  4. Mary Donaldson, author of MARY ELIZA

    June 12, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Printed this one for future reference. I had such a hard time proofing one of my books and these tips will certainly help.

  5. Victoria Williams-Fisher

    June 12, 2012 at 6:36 am

    I never saw the penguin, but I did start reading each paragraph from the last sentence to the beginning. Great tip, I am going to take this personally since I am in the final stages of editing my latest novel with you! I am going to start from the end now and work my way forward.
    It is amazing how changing the format will help with your editing also. I have had four different people read my manuscript and all four found different errors, with the exception of one who didn’t spot any. I will take all the help I can get! Thank you!!

    • Neal Wooten

      June 12, 2012 at 6:53 am

      Victoria – look above the left limb of the tree. When I sent Michele of The Indie Times this article, she asked if I had a picture of the painting. That’s how it became the actual image for this article. lol

  6. corey colombin

    June 12, 2012 at 8:01 am

    I can’t find the penguin. Maybe my eyes aren’t vibrating enough. But, I do like the painting. I have used a similar method to your editing from the back method when I paint in deciding if it’s done or not: I turn the painting upside down in a visible place for three days. This allows me to concentrate on light and shadow,and balance,removing from the equation everything I’m in love with and don’t want to change. Then I sign it. Proofreading in this way (but backward rather than upside down) should be equally successful. Good tip, Neal, and great painting!

  7. Laura Marlowe

    June 12, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Great article…and great painting, Neal! I noticed the penguin right away. Please share the story behind this artwork of mountain and cityscape.

    You are right with regard to the need for a fresh perspective, hence why we are able to accurately draw an image if we look at it upside down; it forces our minds to break the pattern of expectation (preconceived ideas and images) and simply draw what we see instead of what we “know”; the same goes for proofreading.

    Thanks for yet another informative and wonderfully written article.

    • Neal Wooten

      June 12, 2012 at 8:49 am

      It was supposed to represent a work in contrasts – the blue horizon set against the oversized moon, the clear skies set against the impending storm, the baron mountains set against the city full of life, and the field of sunflowers set against the lone dead tree. Or it could be that I just threw some paint at the canvas and it stuck.

  8. Jacent Mpalyenkana

    June 12, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Thanks Neal. It makes a lot of sense. I have actually never thought about proofing my work that way. With that said, what are your editing costs though? Proof reading / editing takes a whole lot of time I tell you. In most cases you have had a couple of months creating your story, and feels so excited and pressured to get it published. With such mind-set you end up missing out on the typos etc. Anyway, thanks again and please advise.

  9. Barbara

    June 12, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Love the Star Spangled Banner analogy. I’m trying to save up for a copy editor but I have used your tip for reading backwards before.
    Good advice.

  10. Sandra White

    June 12, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I must admit, I’m a lousy proofreader. But I’ve tried reading from the back, and for me, it’s a “perfect path to insanity.” Maybe my extremely low boredom threshold gets in my way, but after an hour of reading from the back to the front, I want to go out and throw rocks at someone. For me it works best to just read, reread, reread again–and always, one of the times, I read it aloud. Sometimes my ears will pick up on something my eyes overlooked. And, I do rely on one of my children as well.

  11. Darlene Winter

    June 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I agree with you. I don’t trust myself and have found you can’t always trust others to catch errors either. No matter how hard you try, one may sneak into your story. I have even caught errors in books written by some of the most famous authors and biggest publishing houses. Maybe they need to take your advice.

  12. Concetta M Payne

    June 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

    So true, Neal. Regardless of how many times you read what was written your brain takes full control. Great advice that is now embedded in my brain…read it from the last page to beginning. If you remember, I had an error that could not be overlooked after it was printed. I have a question…Do you find errors when reading magazines and newspapers more today than years ago?

    • Neal Wooten

      June 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      I am appalled at the number of errors I read every single day in the news, in magazines, and online professional venues. It appears getting the news or information out fast is more important than proofing. So yes, I know exactly what you’re saying.

  13. Michael Aschenbach

    June 14, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Good suggestions, Neal. Also, try setting the point size to 14 point. Do your copy edit, then resize back to manuscript size (usually 12 point). Bigger type is easier to read.

    Note 1: “proofreading” is not the same as copy editing, though people often use the term this way. Note 2: Copy editing (finding typos) is not the same as grammar editing, which is not the same as heavy editing, developmental editing, or rewriting. Note 3: Different editors work at different editorial levels–and different manuscripts require different kinds of editing. It depends on your publishing goals, your own skills, your topic area, your audience, and your resources for hiring professional support.

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