Friday, October 17, 2008


There’s nothing like a good proofreader to help improve an author’s writing. I mean a friendly human proofreader--preferably one with good eyes and mad grammar skills. Spellcheckers and grammar suggestions courtesy of word processing programs have their limitations. Seriously, how much trust can I place in a machine that once suggested I have my character tromp around the barn in “ranchhand boots” instead of cowboy boots?

A willing friend is an invaluable resource to catch those awkward sentences that slip by so easily in our writing, no matter how many times we’ve gone over our manuscripts. I was reminded of this last week when a member of my critique group wrote the following (used with permission): Almost too late I saw a man running out of the corner of my eye.

Please, somebody catch the tiny guy before he hits the floor.

Of course, I’m not innocent of the occasional sin. There was the time I asked my daughter Jenny to look over a short story I planned to submit to a magazine. I had the manuscript printed and ready to slip into an envelope. She caught this big, fat, glaring blunder: Two men wearing a suit walked into the room.

What, times were tough and they had to share?

And then there was the gem I wrote in another story. A man and his wife have been fighting and are on the verge of divorcing. In the first paragraph the husband leaves the house, slams the front door, and yells back to his wife: I’m going out for a little piece.

Worse yet, this was geared to a religious magazine. Even worse, Jenny was away at school, so I actually mailed this thing. It was rejected without comment, but I was able to laugh at myself when I looked the story over and finally noticed what I’d done.

But I returned Jenny’s favor when I proofread one of her college short stories about a girl who gave historic tours at an antebellum mansion and hoped to persuade her boss to give up the notion of having the guides wear period costumes. My daughter wrote this: It's hard to go to the bathroom in a hoop skirt.

I've sometimes thought of asking my writer friends to submit their bloopers to me so I can compile them into a book. They would remain anonymous, of course. I may do that some day. After all, I've already decided on a cover photo of me hiding my head in shame.

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