I’ve seen every type of scenario imaginable when it comes to writing and proofreading, and there are only two that are ideal: when a talented writer is writing for a living, and when a talented proofreader is proofreading for a living.
Here’s what can happen when things go wrong.
- I want to be a writer so I’ll start as a proofreader. This is far and away the most common situation, and the most frustrating for the editorial department. If you’re honest about your intent to use proofreading as a stepping stone, why would the proofreading department want you? You’re already planning your exit! And if you’re disingenuous, you’re only going to piss off your fellow proofreaders when you leave, and that is not something you want to do.
- I want to be a proofreader so I’ll start as a writer. This never happens.
- I choose to be a writer; proofreaders are bottom-feeders. Harsh as it may sound, there is some truth to this statement. Proofreaders are bottom-feeders in the sense that if there are no writers, there’s nothing for proofreaders to do. Still, an attitude like that will not ingratiate you to your editors, who can make or break you at their whim.
- I’m a proofreader, and I could write better than this. Even I’m guilty of this one – you read the copy looking for errors and it suddenly dawns on you that the writing is shit. You naturally assume that since you have a passion for words and an ability to spot shitty writing, you’d make a better writer than the writer. Trust me, it may look easy, but writing is hard. Really, really hard. Just because you think you can write better doesn’t make it so.
- I hate proofreaders. This would be the battle cry of the tired and cranky copywriter who just got back his or her copy marked up in copious amounts of red ink.
- I hate copywriters. This would be the attitude of the proofreader who just spent hours and hours thumbing through dictionaries and thesauruses to try and make heads or tails of what the copywriter is trying to say.
- I’ll do both. It’s not often you run across someone who’s an equally skilled proofreader and copywriter, but it happens. If you’ve got both skills, go for it. Just don’t fall into the trap of being the only proofreader for your copy. Get some fresh eyes.
- I’ll do neither. This is perhaps the greatest gift you can give the editorial world. If you have enough self-awareness to know that you stink at writing and you stink at proofreading, then choose another career path with our heartfelt blessing. There’s always politics.
By Steve Boudreault