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.
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