The quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although some believe it more rightly belongs to author Peter De Vries. Regardless of the origin, “Write drunk, edit sober” is often thrown about in talking about the creative process.
While we don’t necessarily advocate the drunk writing part, we do advise any writer to take a step back and view their work from a fresh perspective. To paraphrase De Vries, after the spontaneity of creating, you need the restraint and discipline of a careful edit.
Of course, it’s challenging to catch your own mistakes. The brain is convinced that it knows what it wrote and often overlooks mistakes that are glaringly obvious to an observer. To help overcome the challenge, Hanne Arts has posted “10 essentials for proofreading your own work.”
Many of these you likely already use—like using a spell-checker, or having someone else read the piece. If you want to go even deeper, Arts advises reading the text backwards, one word at a time, to catch spelling mistakes.
Reading in print is also a good option. “Review it line by line, and mark mistakes with a red pen. The different format might help you catch things you might not have otherwise seen,” says Arts. (We find this especially helpful if we’ve been working on a screen for the better part of the day.)
Another trick is to proof for one type of problem at a time, says Arts.
“Read through the full text several times, but don’t tackle everything at once. Read first for overall message; then for sentence structure, grammar and syntax; then for word choice and spelling; and finally for punctuation. This way you are much more likely to find and fix the mistakes.”
Don’t have the kind of time required for that approach? You can also read the piece aloud to help you hear problems you might not see.
Arts’ last bit of advice is perhaps her best: Plan to make changes. “Don’t think your first draft will be your last, because it will not. Even if it takes extra time and energy, make sure you make the required changes to bring your piece to its full potential.”
Whether your words will appear in print or online, give them the benefit of this extra attention. Your reputation will thank you.