The Eye Sees What It Wants To See

So we continue with copyediting and proofreading comments . . .

After my five-part blog on copyediting and proofreading, I collected the comments from this blog and from the LinkedIn writing group called Crime Fiction managed by Theresa de Valence.

Everything written in italics is by the person who made the comment and not by me.

So I’m going to start with a comment I believe in and something I have trouble with.


That Gestalt levelling function gets you every time – you see what you’re primed to see. Check out the results of eyewitness report experiments sometime – you’ll stop believing your own lyin’ eyes. 

So if this is true, how do we get around it? Well, I received some helpful ideas on this. First up:


  • I just finished proofing the ARC of “The Llama of Death,” which is one of my zoo series books. I proof from the first page onwards (checking for any inconsistency that may have bypassed my editor at Poisoned Pen Press). When I’m finished with that, I proof from the last page forward to catch typos. The entire process does take at least 40 hours. Still, with all that care, writers themselves usually make the world’s worst proofers because we automatically read what we MEANT to type, rather than what we actually typed.
  • I learned another great tip from Kathryn wall, who writes the Bay Tanner mysteries. Once I’ve gotten past all the content revisions and am ready to polish the manuscript, I read through it as carefully as I can, making every correction I see. I do it again, this time reading aloud. Then I go through it again, beginning with the last paragraph, then the next-to-last paragraph, and so on, until I reach the beginning. Going through it from back to front keeps me from getting caught up in the story and lets me see problems I would normally miss. (Even reading aloud, if I go from beginning to end, I still tend to read what I think should be there.) Some writers go backward sentence by sentence, but I lose my place too easily, so I do it paragraph by paragraph.
  • How about (for shorter spells of proofreading) printing out a hard copy and reading the words in reverse direction so you are not making sense of sentences?! I do that too.

So if you’re now a believer in reading it backward. I’ll add more incentive to:



  • I always get another pair of eyes to read my galley proof for the obvious errors we all have in our work. But for content editing, you know, the “does this make sense” aspect of a book, I use WINDOWS 2003′s wonderful “text-to-speech” feature. It will read back my manuscript in its little mechanical voice and I can hear the mistakes. When it reads something that I totally don’t understand, I rewrite, because if I don’t understand what I meant, the reader won’t, either. That has been the single best editing tool I have ever found.


  • I believe the text-to-speech facility in Word 2003 was removed from later versions of Microsoft Word.

If you have a later version of Word, or like me do not have Word installed and use Open Office instead, the easiest way I have found to listen to a manuscript being read back to you is to convert it to a PDF and use the “Read Out Loud” feature you will find when you click on “View”. 

It can be a little confusing when you first use this as after you click on Activate read out loud you have to click on view again and read out loud again and then chose to listen to a page or the whole document.
  • Read your writing aloud–you’ll catch more errors that way, and it helps you spot awkward dialog.
  • SF and I read our manuscripts but are guilty of auto translating and miss errors. Then we have the computer read it to us. Ouch … it reads exactly what is there. OK the word “read” is only pronounced one way but we live with it. Reading out loud helps a lot, especially if there is a pause and no comma present. Misspelled words come across strange when the computer reads it also and it can be a wake up call. All of this is done before we send it to editing.

And if reading backward and reading out loud are not enough for you, how about:


  • You guys may not know this but on a computer running Windows, hold down the CONTROL key + roll the centre mouse. In one direction it makes everything larger and reverses in the other. Comes in plenty useful. May not work in some software but does work on the internet.
  • Ooh–using big letters will fix my problem of not seeing the difference between commas and periods on my screen.
  • Good call on using big letters when proofreading. That tends to keep you from scan- reading words in bunches, so it’s easier to focus on each word and its immediate context and not get absorbed in the story, thus losing the nit-picking you need at this stage.
  • Did anyone suggest you change to larger fonts when editing on the computer. The bigger the better it seems. Those little ifs that should be ofs, or then and there. My fingers and mind sometimes lag…and I, like everyone else, reads what my brain thinks should be there.

I’ve been motivated by the comments and the many ways to improve the final version of a novel. As usual, I’d love to hear any other ideas you have.

Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments . . .


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