Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Proof-reading On Screen - The Bane of a Writer's Eyes?

When I was a kid, there was a saying that if you watched too much television you would end up with square eyes. Fortunately, it was something I didn’t have to worry about as I didn’t watch much television – and I still don’t – but the saying came to mind a few days ago after spending much of the last three weeks in front of a computer preparing my next novel for publication. Not that I really think I’m developing square eyes but, at the end of a day of intense focus on a computer screen, they often feel that way.
I like to write my first drafts by hand, do a preliminary edit while I type up the manuscript and then print off hard copies for further editing. I think it’s much easier to spot mistakes on a hard copy than it is on a screen and the additional time required to input the changes later, rather than as you go if you are editing on screen, is well worth it, given the chance to get away from the computer for at least some of the process. 
However, when it comes to preparing to upload a self-published book for either print or e-book, the initial proof-reading has to be done on screen as there is no way to print from the previewers and even if there were it would be an expensive option in terms of all the paper and ink used.
Maybe some lucky writers get it right first time, but I find that the process is a circular one of upload, proof-read, correct typos or formatting issues, and then start all over again… and again… No matter how hard you try, it seems like there is always something that has escaped your notice.
Sometimes the error is so small it is possible nobody else would notice, but just knowing it is there is enough to make me go through the cycle one more time. And based on earlier experience with my first novel, I know how easily a new error can inadvertently be introduced when correcting ones spotted previously, which makes me want to check one more time before I do order the printed proof copy, just in case. Hence the square eye syndrome.
There does come a point when you have to say enough is enough. No doubt, despite all good intentions and all that staring at the screen, someone will find the punctuation mark or even the two letter word that still somehow skipped the sentence. All you can do is take some solace from the knowledge that even traditionally published books are not immune to this problem, and one can only wonder how many pairs of eyes have looked over those.
Mel Parish is one proof copy away (she hopes) from publishing her next novel 'Ulterior Motives'.
This blog post was originally posted on


  1. I agree with you. Reading everything on the computer is hard on the eyes. I think it's easier to find errors in the hard copy, too. But, with technology the way it is, and especially ebooks, it's all about the screen. I guess we just have to take breaks when we can, but it's hard when there are deadlines.

  2. Makes you wonder whether more people will have vision problems in the future as social media and e-books take a larger and larger chunk of our time. Reading on screen is a lot more intensive than watching on screen.