Why do we love proofreading? A common charge levelled against proofreaders and editors is that it is nit-picking pedantry, that most annoying and unsociable of habits, which drives us. It puts us in an awkward situation, being that person who always has to be accurate. In the literary world, full as it is of bright sparks and rambling minds, proofreaders are the constant, steady hands, who always know how to spell, and are never invited to parties.
As a writer I know that no matter how good I might be at assessing others’ work, there will always be things I miss in my own. That’s why, whatever I write, I give it to another person to get a second pair of eyes on it. And that second pair of eyes always spots loads of errors. They sometimes find things that make me, the most accurate person in the room, hang my head in shame. But that’s the nature of writing – a second pair of eyes, a relationship with an editor, is pretty crucial to producing the best possible work.
This doesn’t mean I like this process. I find myself balling up into a defensive position whenever that copy comes back, covered in comments and red marks. Even if there are only three of them and they’re all reasonable, I still feel like revolting. For roughly three seconds, I hate my editor.
What I have to remind myself of at moments like this is the reason I myself love to proofread and edit.
And it has nothing whatsoever to do with being right.
It’s because I really like language, the way it changes all the time, and especially the way any given individual will use it in a way that is unique to them. It’s not pedantry that drives proofreading – it’s love. Love for history, love for the possibilities for language in future, and complete certainty that nobody writes, or speaks, alone. We always need someone to talk to, and we always need a second pair of eyes.