The importance of being a good proof-reader is summed up in this Oscar Wilde quote: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
Being a freelance writer for a community newspaper and a novelist “in progress”, I have often wondered about what makes a really good book or article. Is it the cover? The title? The topic? Or, the writer? In my belief and experience, these are small factors that play equally small roles in the success of the finished product. The main ingredient (as I have noticed time and again) is how well you proof-read the write-up.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be the first one to review Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel, The Distance. The book had potential and the writing style screamed of individuality. But what prevented the book from becoming a masterpiece were the many grammatical and factual mistakes I came across. Similarly, there are many community newspapers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) but the quality of the papers is questionable. The reason? Again, lack of thorough proof-reading.
Having to write atleast 3-4 articles per week, I have an urge to take shortcuts. Shortcuts usually entail not paying attention to a comma, or exact quotes, or even facts. It’s an urge that goes back to my essay writing days at York University where a well-written essay with short-cuts would gain me a B or a B+. However, a well-written essay that had been proof-read atleast 2-3 times would entitle me to an A, always without fail. It is a deadly urge that can bring the demise of any aspiring or promising writer. I do believe I belong to the former category, while family and friends like to attribute my writing to the latter. The trick to avoid this urge is to promise oneself to always be a writer with integrity (the importance of which will be the topic for another blog post).
It usually takes me three hours to write a 600 words article because I spend two hours on proof-reading. However, do not mistake me for a writer sitting on her high-horse criticising other writers out there. I am just pointing out a flaw that I have noticed. And, if you spend as much time proof-reading as I do, you will know exactly what I mean.