Being a perfectionist is hard work. Especially when attempting the impossible. Or near impossible. For me proofreading falls under that category. From what other writers say I’m not alone in that. I get a double blast of trouble, because I write screenplays as well as fiction. Between the two proofreading sets off procrastination extraordinaire. There are a number of indications that it’s time to just stop. It’s a job that never ends, because there will always be one more. Or more…more.

Here are five ways to know it’s time to back away from the keyboard and go eat some chocolate.

1. Rubber brain. This is what I call the point reached when readthroughs become all but impossible. All those carefully crafted words that made my brain sing several readthroughs ago start bouncing back out of that same brain as soon as they try to gain entrance. It’s like when I eventually get sick of a food I love so much that I eat it a lot, until one day it suddenly becomes inedible. Total rejection. It’ll be back on the edible list someday, and the words will be readable again. Until that day it’s better to respect the feeling of overkill and leave the thing alone.

2. If line spacing in a screenplay starts multiplying like rabbits, becoming two instead of one and three instead of two, or disappearing after I’m sure I got it right, it’s time to take a break. A long, long break. Worse yet if blank lines start wavering or jumping around like a newscaster’s houndstooth sports jacket on a TV screen, it may indicate proofreading exhaustion one step short of minor hallucination. If the characters start taking form and running across the screen (not that it’s ever happened to me, of course), a nap…or mild restorative coma might be in order.

3. Retyping discouragement. With fiction I read for typos and minor errors, which can take an alarming number of passes. My brain seems to edit as I write, altering whole sentences just as they’re poised to emerge. Maybe that’s how so many typos slip in. My brain’s so busy editing on the fly that it can’t be bothered to use the common sense it needs to catch the important info, such as the fact that eyes don’t sea. If I have to retype a manuscript, it doesn’t involve editing so my brain is free to collude with my thoughtlessly flying fingers to make even more ridiculous typos. This can lead to an impenetrable wall of errors that breeds a feeling of futility. This one is an illusion (or should that be delusion?) that must be ignored for several further readthroughs. Retyping typos are a breed of their own, and must be approached warily. The time to run away screaming is never as soon as I hope or dream or desperately wish for.

4. When I reach a point where I find myself dreading even picking up a story or script I’ve enjoyed reading multiple times, it’s time to leave it alone. Sometimes it’s difficult to make that decision, because I’ll inevitably find myself reading it in part, or the whole thing, after it’s out the door and find a glaring error. That’s the nature of the beast. The sooner a writer figures out how to deal with it, the sooner restful sleep will be a part of the process.

5. Realizing I’ve actually edited in an error. Or two. That’s a sure sign to me that it’s time to put it down, walk away, and hit the post office or Send. The key there is to recognize it, through bleary eyes, tired brain, and an exasperated muse eager to move on to the next project.

Proofreading can be tricky. Respect the proofreading. Won shorely wood knot won’t peepholes two sea porely peppered twerk…wait, that’s a post for another day…Autocorrect, Curse of the Computer Age

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