In my life, I’ve learned a lot about editing. About proofreading, revising, spellchecking and grammar correction. And I’m sure you have too. I trained in journalism in college (and wrote a bunch of philosophy essays too), and have written a few books. And along with all that training I’ve read a lot of books on editing, writing, story structure, and all that other stuff we writers should be focusing on.

But one area I’ve always ran into difficulties was when it came to seeing my work through the eyes of the reader, rather than the writer. It’s something I think pretty much all creators struggle with – we know our work, what we meant, and what we were attempting to get across. And with that perspective we often don’t see things that might be obvious to others.

Now, before I continue, please note this recommendation I’ll be making is not a substitute for third-party editors, beta readers and the like. But it is something I’ve found exceedingly helpful while in the self-editing and revising stage of my writing (before I send off to beta readers or editors).

Starting with A Confession, I have now begun to print physical proof copies of what I feel are my “near-final” drafts of my work – and do another full round of edits and revising from them.

Printed Proof Draft
Not really the second draft. More like the 10th draft. But my second “printed” draft.

By these physical proof copies, I am referring to actual printed copy book versions of what I’ve written. Formatted for print, with (often temporary) copyright statements, acknowledgements, quotes and anything else the book might have when it’s completed. This even includes first runs at cover art design.

Basically, a print copy of the book. But not one I’m ready to actually publish.

Now I admit, I originally did this because I was just impatient and wanted to see my work in book form. (That in itself, is actually an important part of moving past the “conceptual” idea of the book to the “wow this is a real thing and could exist soon” mentality). But once I did this, I quickly realized how helpful it was in my additional editing and revising stages.

Normally when I write I print out rough drafts of my books on paper and put them in binders, then let them sit a bit (to add some of that much-needed distance). After a few weeks I dive in and start re-reading everything, with my highlighters and marking pens in-hand. It’s a long and arduous process, as any of you know, but in the end I have something considerably better than what I started with. This often happens after quite a few edits and rewrites on the computer, as well as several more changes as I’m implementing my markup into my digital draft.

But what happens when you print out a physical copy of the book (like in regular paperback form) is that I am able to add an entirely new level of editing and revising to my process. This is because when I’m holding my book in my hand, just like any other book on my bookshelf, I’m able to make a mental shift from writer to reader.

When reading from a proof copy, I’m reading like a reader might – just like I would read anything else. And when I do that I often find bits of stumbling text that I otherwise missed, repeated or missing words, typos, inconsistencies and pacing issues. I find bits of alliteration that while unintentional, are distracting. All those pesky unnecessary adverbs start to pop out just a bit more and I often find myself saying “show me, don’t tell me.”

Editing Printed ProofSo as I go through, I mark my book up again. I write in the margins, cross things out, draw lines where things should move – and even highlight the parts I really do like.

Then when I’m done, I go through and put all those fixes in, and go through the book again. When I do, I find it reads considerably smoother and is more balanced than what I started with (and in the case of A Confession it might be a few thousand words and a subplot or two shorter).

Once that’s all done, that’s when I feel it’s ready to go to other readers. My beta readers generally get it first, so I can be sure to fix up anything I missed (including the inevitable rewrites, expansions and deletions that no matter what, I, who am still the author, can’t see). Then it goes through more edits, to an editor/proofreader, etc.

But through all of that, the part I continue to swear is the most important part of the process is that printed proof copy. It just allows for that mental shift I can’t seem to make on my own, and I see my writing through a considerably different set of eyes.

If you’re a writer, I absolutely recommend doing the same – or finding your own way of separating yourself from your writing. Other tactics that work are having the book read to you or reading it out loud. You’ll again find it’s somehow different that way, and you’re able to pull away enough more to add a bit of objectivity you might not have had previously.

Side note: One extra bonus of working from printed proofs earlier in your process is you can start to see how your cover art and formatting will really work in the finished book, giving you earlier opportunity to fix or improve those things as well. Even things like where your chapter breaks should be can become much more obvious when you’re working from a book proof.

Do you have any special editing or revising tips or procedures you follow that you’d recommend? Be sure to share them below!

Why I Swear By Editing My Novels from Physical Proofs (And You Will Too)
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6 thoughts on “Why I Swear By Editing My Novels from Physical Proofs (And You Will Too)

  • February 24, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I had planned on the pages/binder plan, but appreciate your detailing taking it to the next step! Any recommendations for how get a single copy printed? I had always heard it was prohibitively expensive.

  • February 24, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Great question, CJ. I actually order them through Createspace as early proofs of the project. That same project eventually goes on to be my final printed draft – but after several additional rounds of revisions.

  • March 5, 2018 at 11:53 am

    BuddyPress maybe? Tools certainly are available to provide a signoff workflow, revision control and side-by-side diffs, and hold the revised version for review by you (or someone you”ve added to “editor usergroup) a leave the old version displayed until the revised version is approved.

  • August 14, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Great post, William! I love how concrete your experience is. Self-editing is a real problem for a lot of writers, almost as bad as self-promotion.
    Would you be interested in sharing this post on my website as a guest blogger? I get over 300 unique viewers daily. You have my email.

  • September 3, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    I was thinking of doing this for book 2 in my series. Glad to see someone else thought of it too.

  • March 21, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    William, this is a wonderful post. This is actually an excellent idea!

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