Do you proofread all of your work? And I mean all of it. Obviously, with stories, articles, and longer works, it's important to carefully review them. But what about blog posts or emails to clients? On a few occasions, I've dashed off a message or blog post without proofing because I was in a hurry, and I regretted it every time. No exceptions.
I emphasize over and over that you should have another set of eyes proofread your writing after you do, whether it's an editor or a member of a writing group. However, with time-sensitive material, like a blog post, that isn't always possible. So careful proofreading of your work is necessary to keep your writing clean and professional.
Keep the following tips in mind as you review your writing for errors.
As with writing, proofreading requires concentration. Some errors will be obvious, but others can be subtle. So if you're going to catch them, you need to focus. You can't afford to multitask here. So turn off the music, close the social media sites, turn off the cell phone, and give your work the undivided attention it deserves.
2. Watch out for Usage Errors
Homophones are the biggest offender here. Have you ever confused to, too, and two or used accept when you should have used except? These are easy mistakes to make and just as easy to overlook since the words will be spelled correctly.
3. Check Punctuation
While you need to review your words closely, punctuation is important too. Don't let those little marks fool you. A misplaced or omitted punctuation mark can damage a sentence just as much as using the wrong word. Watch for misplaced or missing commas, periods used incorrectly, apostrophes in contractions and possessives, as well as others.
4. Print It Out
With shorter projects, this may be unnecessary, but for longer articles and stories, you should consider it. You read differently on paper than you do on the screen. And if you are alone, read it aloud. Your ear will catch awkward constructions more easily than your eyes will.
5. Have Someone Else Proof It
I know I said this was about proofreading work yourself, and that is important. But whenever possible, have someone else proofread your writing. You'll find there are a number of things you overlooked. If time doesn't permit this, go over it one more time yourself.
The first three on this list are necessary, even on a tight schedule. But on a long-term project, make time to print your writing out and read it aloud. And then have someone else read it. Communication is the goal, and clean copy is the most effective way do so without distracting your reader with errors.
On the heels of discussing creativity killers, it's time to touch on another important aspect of getting your writing done. Focus. And on some days concentrating on writing is easy. You sit down, and the words seem to spring forth with little effort. You are surprised to look up and see that not minutes, but hours, have passed. However, other days you barely write a sentence before the distractions start bombarding you from all directions. Chores need to be done, you have several personal calls to return and text messages to answer, not to mention the boatload of e-mails (and/or social media updates to check), and your dog is begging to be walked. Many of these things can be postponed or delegated (okay, the dog walking may not be able to wait too long), but they are nagging you while you're trying to write.
But books, articles, and blog posts won't write themselves, which means writers need to concentrate long enough to complete them. So what should you do to stay focused?
1. Set small goals. There's that word again—goals. Break your writing down into manageable word count blocks (for instance, 500 words) or agree to write for a certain amount of time, like one to two hours. Having a goal to work toward helps me immensely when I'm trying to maintain focus.
2. Turn off electronic distractions. This came up in my creativity killers post, and I'll mention it again because it can't be emphasized enough. Turn off the distractions. Close your e-mail program, turn off your cell phone, and avoid social media until your writing for the day is complete. Better yet, close your web browser so the minimized window won't be lingering down at the bottom of the screen taunting you.
3. Create a schedule or to-do list. If you have multiple writing projects active at once (novels, short stories, articles, etc.), create a writing schedule with specific time slots for each. That way you won't be working on one project and wondering if you should give some attention to another because you already know when you'll get to it. Remember the 6 Ps: Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.
4. Acknowledge the distraction. Have you ever tried meditating only to have thoughts intrude? If your mind wanders while you're writing, the concept is the same. Acknowledge that this will happen occasionally, and accept the distraction for what it is. And then gently remind yourself of your goal and return to your writing.
5. Reward yourself. Create small rewards when you meet those small goals. Allow yourself a bit of time to indulge in one of those distractions, go for a walk, have lunch with a friend, or something that is not writing related so you can return to your desk refreshed.
Whatever you do, don't beat yourself up when you get distracted. It will only lead to self-defeating thinking and possibly cause you to give up for the day. If focus is a serious problem for you, consider meditating before you start writing. It won't solve all of your problems, but it will definitely help.
This is a borderline personal post. It seems appropriate for a few reasons. First of all, to be able to help others, I should make improving my performance a priority. Second, for most people, this is the last day off from the holiday season before returning to work. So I'll keep it short and light and leave readers time to spend with the people in their lives who matter most.
In any event, while browsing the blogosphere, I eventually found a link to Chris Brogan's blog post challenging people to come up with three words to define their goals and experiences in the coming year. As a writer, this automatically resonated with me. I have goals for multiple areas of my life: business, writing, health, personal, etc., so I should choose three words that encompass all of my goals and apply to all areas of life.
I'm posting these not only for personal reasons but to inspire you along your path as well. For me, I need to stop worrying about what isn't done and act. So I chose three verbs:
Plan: As a Sagittarius, I love to improvise. Spontaneity has always been something I held dear, and it definitely still has its place. However, when there's a lot to do and a limited time to accomplish everything, planning and prioritizing are indispensable. When I fail to plan, I find the activities I love most, like creative writing, fall by the wayside. Plan writing time.
Focus: This follows right on the heels of planning. It's hard to accomplish anything when you have too many distractions demanding your attention. Remaining focused on what's important is the best way to get the job done. Whether I'm editing a client manuscript or working on a personal writing project, concentrating on the task and what I need to do to complete it. So what are the areas that require your focus?
Create: Obviously, as a writer, this word is important to me, but the word create can be applied in all areas of life. Creating is taking action. Since our decisions and actions create our reality, we should be doing this consciously rather than responding to the reality that others envision for us. Take a leading role in the creation of your life. Create something that wasn't there before—an article, a novel, an essay, a poem. Write everyday.
Use these three words to inspire you, and then choose your own.
Which ones did you choose? By all means, share.