The Professional Way to Proofread Your Writing When You Don’t Have Time

It takes time to produce your best work. If you don’t have time, do this …

Learn how to perform a power proofreading. It’s like power napping or a power lunch: You extract a substantial benefit from a brief activity.

In this 20-minute episode, I talk about:

  • An important question I forgot to ask Demian Farnworth during our conversation on Editor-in-Chief
  • Why proofreading is a profession in its own right
  • How you should respond if people devalue your online business
  • What 108 sun salutations can teach you about a regular proofreading practice
  • The best steps to take when you don’t have time to proofread your writing

The Show Notes

The Professional Way to Proofread Your Writing When You Don’t Have Time

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Stefanie Flaxman: Hey, hi, hello, howdy, and greetings, Editor-in-Chiefs. I’m Stefanie Flaxman, and you are listening to Editor-in-Chief, the weekly audio broadcast that delivers the art of writing, updated for the digital age, to help you become a stronger media producer.

The way that I just said hello to everyone, I did not make up. I copied it from Demian Farnworth, the host of Rough Draft here on Rainmaker.FM. He started an episode like that a few episodes back. Well, he has a new episode four days a week, so this was probably a while back now, but he began an episode like that. It made me smile, so I just wanted to copy him. I thought that would be fun.

Demian is sort of my big brother. I treat him like a big brother. We have a big-brother/little-sister relationship. It’s just natural for a little sister to want to copy her big brother, so that’s what I did. Then I also learned something from my other big brother, Jerod Morris, when I was listening to his podcast, called The Showrunner. He said to his co-host, Jon Nastor, “Jon, is there any time where you’ve done an interview and you think later that you missed an opportunity to ask a follow-up question?” I was talking to them, too, when I was listening to the podcast, because I said, “Yes, Jerod! Yes, Jerod!”

An Important Question I Forgot to Ask Demian Farnworth during Our Conversation on Editor-in-Chief

There were probably many times, but there was one specific one that came to mind when I was interviewing Demian for Editor-in-Chief a few episodes back here. You can go and check that episode out, but Demian was talking about when he was a managing editor, and he worked with a staff of editors and proofreaders and writers below him.

One of the things that he really liked to do was teach and mentor. So he would tell the proofreaders, “Hey, do you want to one day become a writer? I can help you do that,” and he would coach them to get to the point where they could do their own freelance writing or be working for the publication that they were working for and do writing work there. Our interview went very long. We talked about a lot of different topics, but I made a note that I didn’t get to circle back around and ask him about, which was, “Well, why do the proofreaders have to become writers?”

Why Proofreading Is a Profession in Its Own Right

Why was his assumption that they weren’t really happy being proofreaders? If that’s not what they wanted to do, why did he have to push them along the editorial hierarchy to become writers? I didn’t get a chance to ask him about that, but that’s something that is pretty personal for me, for someone who mostly, mainly, chiefly considers herself an editor or proofreader. I keep writing, I guess, because the world is a funny place, and I can’t get away from it, even though there are many times where I’ve been, “You know, I’m not doing this. I’m not writing ever again. I’m an editor. That’s what I identify with,” and then writing keeps creeping back in.

I guess I don’t have to be too strict about it. It could be a fluid transition between being a writer and being an editor. I don’t have to choose one.

But when I first started as a freelance proofreader — when I started my online business — I would tell people what I did, and a lot of the time, I’d hear things like, “Oh, what else do you do?” or, “Oh, that’s so interesting. I’m thinking about doing that on the side, too,” and I was always very irritated.

How You Should Respond If People Devalue Your Online Business

Whether I expressed it to them or not — I was probably polite, and I don’t think I expressed it too much — I was like, “No. That is what I do. I’m not doing this on the side. I’m not doing anything else. I am a proofreader. That’s my identity. That’s what I do.” I’m sure I explained it in some way that they didn’t care about as I was trying to explain who I was to some stranger, a person that wasn’t really too involved in my life, some acquaintance.

What I realize now is that what I was trying to communicate was, “No, I’m an Editor-in-Chief of what I do. Proofreading is what I do. It is not a stepping-stone to something else. This is it for me, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t care what your perceptions are. No, this is what I do.”

For you, being the Editor-in-Chief of what you do, I don’t know if that helps you situate yourself if there are people that are doubting or questioning what you do, or they think it’s a side project, or that it’s not really going to be a real thing. For me, like I said, in hindsight, what I really wanted to say is, “I’m the Editor-in-Chief of what I do. I’m developing an online business. I’m providing value for people, and that was through being a proofreader.” Well, there is a method to my madness. I’m getting to a proofreading lesson, and there’s a point.

I wanted to honor the idea of any profession being its own autonomous thing rather than just being a stepping-stone to something else, or just being a side project. There’s nothing wrong with a side project, but there are things that we do that are valuable in their own right. We don’t always have to justify that they’re part of a bigger plan or, “I’m just doing this for now.”

No, if they provide value for other people, if they are valuable to us because we are passionate about them, then they’re okay. For me, that’s proofreading. I want to honor proofreading as its own activity, where you don’t have to also be aspiring to be a writer or even an editor — that it’s okay on its own.

The lesson that I’m getting to is that there are many ways to teach proofreading lessons. I tend to get away from things that are too mechanical or technical. I think they’re really boring. There’s a time when it’s necessary to do that. Like, if I was teaching how to use a comma, I would pretty much have to define what a dependent clause is to make that lesson effective.

I’d have to talk about conjunctions and things like that, which is a little bit more technical, and grammar, and writing mechanics. But for proofreading, I just like to break it down into what can be really useful — what do people struggle with when it comes to proofreading? — and then form a lesson around that.

I might give other types of proofreading lessons later on in different episodes, but one that really pops out at me as being something that you could walk away with and do the next time that you sit down to write is what I call a ‘power proofreading,’ which could be similar to a power nap or a power lunch. The idea is that you’re taking a short activity and getting a maximum benefit out of it.

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Back to the creative process, and writing, editing, and proofreading — all those things that go into composing our words. The creative process takes time to end up with a product that is the best it can be. What do you do if you don’t have time? We often don’t because we’re constantly balancing producing great content with, “I have to keep moving onto the next thing. I don’t have all day to work on a blog post. I don’t have all day to work on a podcast. I need to do a good job, but then I need to move on.”

One of the things that I think is critical after you finish a piece of writing but before you move on is to proofread it properly. The easiest way to describe proofreading not properly is when you glance over your text. You’re not going through it word-for-word, probably because you think you don’t have time to, and you’re staring at it a little bit and say, “Okay, I proofread it,” and then it’s ready to publish. But I think if you’re going to spend time — even five minutes — just glancing at your screen thinking that you’re proofreading, that five minutes is a waste of time.

You don’t even need to do that if that’s what your proofreading is going to be like. There are better ways that you can spend that five minutes, and it might take up to 10 minutes, which you may think that you don’t have. But if you want to produce the best piece of work possible in the time that you have, this is one way to do it. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be perfect after this proofreading since we are all working quickly, and we need to move on to the next thing, but that’s okay.

You can be happy with what you do at a certain time, and then know that you can improve next time. This increases your chances of making your best possible work and being happy with it because after this, you can walk away going, “Okay, I did everything that I could to make it the best it could be, for everything that’s going on today, and I’m going to move on. Maybe I’ll do something different next time, or maybe I will have more time to proofread more. I need to make time for that in my schedule, because it will really make a difference.”

Here is a technique to do when you don’t have very much time, and you think you don’t have time to proofread. Instead of just glancing at your page, do this instead. It could take five minutes. It could take 10 minutes. It could take 15 minutes. The more time that you put into your writing process to incorporate this, the better. The first step is actually making this an absolutely-without-fail part of your writing process. Not like, “Okay, maybe I’ll do this sometimes,” but every time you write. Make a habit of doing this proofreading.

What 108 Sun Salutations Can Teach You about a Regular Proofreading Practice

I did something last weekend called a full mala. It is a yoga thing. It’s 108 sun salutations, and it was over a two-hour period, and that’s all we did during that two hours. We did a little warm up and a little cool down, but it was 108 of these sun salutations, if you’re familiar with yoga. If not, you can look it up. There are about nine or 10 poses within a sun salutation, and then we did 108 of them. It was very intense. I’ve been practicing yoga for about two years now, so it was definitely a fun moment for me, because it was something that I worked up to.

When I first started, there was no way that I was going to be able to do that, but I actually completed it and had a really good time. I’m really happy that I did it. But I’ve been understandably sore since last weekend when I did this. I wanted to use that momentum of my soreness and start a yoga practice every day. I go to class two times a week, and I do a little bit of practicing at home when I feel like it, but I don’t do anything, or I hadn’t up until this point done anything, on a regular basis.

I thought, “I’m really sore, I don’t want to lose all of this whatever is going on with all my muscles right now while they’re loose and open.” I decided that in the morning I was going to do a little, manageable 15-, 20-minute practice of my own at home. Where I’m going with this is to me, it’s not an option not to do that anymore. Even though it’s been a few days, it’s like, “Okay, that’s what I do in the morning.” This proofreading practice at the end before you’re ready to publish your writing is something that you should think of as, “No, this is just a habit. This is just what I do before I publish my writing.”

The Best Steps to Take When You Don’t Have Time to Proofread Your Writing

Again, it makes you feel better that you walked away knowing you’ve put in the most effort. You’ve done everything you can to make this what it could be. Do that: make proofreading a habit. That is step one, I would say. Then, when you know that you are ready to proofread, whether you’ve been looking at your writing, whether you haven’t been looking at your writing, but when you’re sitting down to proofread, before you do that, take one minute and step away from your computer. Wherever you’re working, go into a different space.

You could go outside if you’re inside. You could go inside if you’re outside. Go drink a glass of water. Spend a minute or two listening to a song that you like. Basically, at this point, you want to just clear your mind and do something distracting — even for just a minute or two. Just close your eyes. Blink your eyes a lot. You want to forget that you’re going to proofread, because you want to use all of your energy when you’re in there for that proofreading.

When you’re ready, clear your mind, and then come back to your document. Then, instead of staring at your page with your eyes glossed over, go through your text and read each word out loud slowly. You need to be really exaggerated when you do that, and focus your attention on each word as you read each word. This may make you anxious, because you want to publish your text, and you’re thinking, “This is going to take a long time,” but it actually saves you so much more time than if you’re proofreading too fast, because then you’re going to have to proofread multiple times, and you won’t even catch the errors that you will catch in this way.

Calm your anxiety, and read each word slowly. Then, enunciate each word as if you’ve never seen it before. At the same time, you want to note every punctuation mark that you come across. Again, you’re going through this really slowly, so when you get to a period, note that it’s a period. Make sure that the period should be there. If there is an apostrophe, stop. Obviously, apostrophes many times are in the middle of a word, but stop, because you’ll catch things like ‘it’s’ when there should be an apostrophe when it is a contraction of ‘it is’ or if it’s ‘its’ which is possessive, and you don’t need the apostrophe there.

If you go through slowly and make a little ding in your brain every time you see a punctuation mark, you’re going to get in the habit of stopping there and seeing if it really should be there and if it’s the most appropriate punctuation. Do that for colons, semicolons, commas, quotation marks — just use those like a stop sign if you’re driving, or a stoplight, little triggers to slow down in your text and make sure that everything there is what it should be. Maybe there’s a sentence that’s a run-on, and you could really use punctuation. Maybe there’s a fragment.

You’ll notice these things when you’re going through really slowly. If you do end up making a change, make the change, and then go back to the beginning of the document, and start this process over in the same manner. I know it can make you a little anxious, because this takes time, or it feels like it’s taking more time than it is, but you want to go through the document without stopping at all until you get to the end. Continue this process until you can read through the entire document without making a change.

Once you can do that, spell-check the document one more time, because you may have mistakenly inserted an error while you’re going through all of this. Again, you really just have to calm your own anxiety and tell yourself that you do have time for this, and this is the best way to spend your time when you are proofreading.

That is what I have for you today, my Editor-in-Chiefs. I hope that it is something that you can use, and if you like this tip, if you like everything that I’m talking about on Editor-in-Chief, please hop over to iTunes and leave a rating and review there, so I can hear all of your — hopefully — nice thoughts.

You can get all of my episodes also on EditorinChief.FM. That is a quick way where you can find all of my episodes and share them around if you want to pass along this show to other people. I hope you will join me next week. I’m Stefanie Flaxman. Thank you for listening to Editor-in-Chief. Now, go become one.