Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Tips, Tricks and Tales: Proofreading for a Friend (Guest Post)

To proofread or not to proofread...for a friend

Proofreading for a friend…I’ve been on both sides of this particular transaction and it’s schizophrenic all round! 
As the proofreader/editor, you want to be both kind and honest. As the author, you want to receive both kindness and honesty. In both cases, there is the fear that too much of either will damage the friendship.

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Let’s take a closer look at kindness first. Friends care about each other’s feelings – it is one of the fundamentals of friendship. We don’t like to hurt the other or be hurt by her. As an author, I trust the friend I ask to proofread to care for my manuscript as much as I do. I want her to respect it, not laugh at it and certainly not use my blunders to spice up conversation around her book club dinner table!

As the proofreader, I am keenly aware that the pen in my hand (or the track changes function on my laptop) can be experienced by my friend as a cold blade slicing into her back. Allowing myself to comment as freely as I would on a complete stranger’s work, could be a bridge too far.

But how then does one deal with honesty? Is the answer to sacrifice it on the altar of friendship? I think not. Doing that would be the ultimate act of betrayal. In addition to being kind, friends count on each other to save them from embarrassment. Would you let your friend walk through the mall with a length of loo paper trailing from her skirt? Of course not. Similarly, you can’t call yourself BFF and in the same breath allow her to publish a manuscript rendered see-through by plot holes. As an author, I really count on my friend-readers to save me from myself.

But is that a realistic and, even more importantly, fair expectation?

Having thought about this question for a while, here is my conclusion: it is not fair to throw an unsuspecting friend into the whirlwind of proofreading. It is not fair to make her the custodian of all the emotion that constitutes a manuscript.

So, does that mean you are on your own, relying on the kindness, or indeed the cruelty, of strangers? Again the answer is “no”. The word “unsuspecting” in the statement above is the key to the conundrum.

I truly believe that friends who have experienced and therefore understand the agony and the ecstasy of writing, can be the best people to help exercise your manuscript’s wings before you release it. They know how much of yourself is contained in every word. They know how long and lonely the night before the deadline can be. And because they know, they should (and thankfully often do) find the delicate balance between kindness and honesty.

It is then up to you to find the balance between pain and pleasure when you respond to the edits.

About Charmain Lines:
I have always earned my living with words, first as a corporate communicator in a state-owned enterprise and for the past 7 years as an independent consultant. Increasingly, writing and publication production have become the mainstays of my business. I am fortunate that not a day passes without a story of some description leaving my desk. The jump into fiction writing happened 2 years ago. I am planning to publish my debut novel – a character-driven drama about family relationships – within the next few months.