Disclaimer: I did go on to major in English, but it’s not my first language. My first language is Spanish. I am have been studying French for the last two years, le langage de l’amour, and at times my head gets lost in translation. Surprisingly, it is often the smallest things that confuse me, like whether I should use “in” or “on” in a sentence. The other stuff, the ones that could be more complicated to learn, are often easier to remember.
I make this confession because it might give you an idea of how annoying and challenging proofreading my work is for me. The problem is not that English is my second language, but that I am often filled with dread every time I have to revise or edit my work. Suddenly, all my those insecurities about my ability to write make an appearance. These insecurities fuel the fear, and at the end, I’m convinced that I must be a horrible writer.
Regardless, it has to be done, and learning how to proofread and edit your work is essential for aspiring writers. So, what should you do?
Study Grammar: Yes, I hear you. Studying grammar sounds boring, but not taking the time to learn is harmful to your writing. A good grammatician can challenge the rules sentences and create beautiful lines. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is the classic book on grammar. It is available at the public library, and if you wish to own a copy, it might cost you a maximum of eight dollars on Amazon.
Take Classes: If you can invest the money, taking grammar courses from a certified instructor is a great option. In New York City, the Gotham Writing Workshop offers grammar classes every month. It’s an investment that can’t go wrong. After all, the skill of writing clearly and efficiently is high in demand. There is nothing to lose. These classes are perfect for you if you are native or fluent English speaker, live in New York City, can afford to invest $125, and you wish to improve your grammatical skills with the assistance of an instructor. I took the class twice (so much to learn), and both experiences were excellent. It was a privilege and investment.
Read Actively: The advice might be cliche, but reading expands a person’s vocabulary and introduces the reader to various writing styles. Nevertheless, reading alone might not be enough. You might need to read actively. Choose some of your favorite books, and go back to them. Study the author’s techniques, the tone, and the grammar. It makes you aware of how each sentence is constructed. (Note: You should not try to copy someone else’s style, but become conscious of the structures of the sentences to understand the grammar.)
Schedule Time: Do not edit or proofread as you write. If you do, you will fall into a rabbit hole and never reach your destination. You would never finish the story. Instead, schedule the editing and proofreading for two or three days after completing the story. Stephen King waits six weeks before going back to edit his work, and he’s an expert. He’s more than a New York Times bestseller. The wait will help ease the stress or the drive to perfection. You would be able to notice mistakes that you might have missed while feeling the pressure of making it perfect.
On a deadline? As indicated in my earlier post about making time to write, my life is hectic. I often find myself rushing through the proofreading or editing processes for my academic papers. I resorted to using a site called Grammarly. I only have to copy and past my work onto the indicated webpage, and the site automatically scans for grammatical errors. The software captures more grammatical errors than your regular word document.
You can either use the site for free (with some restrictions) or pay for a subscription. If you don’t trust technology, Grammarly also has a team of real (I don’t think they are zombies) humans to proofread your writing for a set price. Grammarly is an option if you’re a busy person writing important documents and you can afford the fee. Regardless, learning to proofread your work (on your own) is an essential skill.
*Grammarly is not paying me for this recommendation.