Novel set in PARIS (Perfume, Paris and Provence)
Behind the scenes with Julia Gibbs – proofreader
17th March 2021
You wouldn’t think the daily routine of anyone who works from home would be of much interest to others, would you? I told TripFiction I’d try to make mine sound fascinating though, so here goes:
Every morning I’m awoken by Jason Momoa bringing me a cup of tea, and bringing me my satin wrap before he throws open the curtains and carries me to my desk – okay, I’m lying! Still, the role of a proofreader is very important to the writing world, and that world has changed so much in the last 15 to 20 years.
Some time ago I wrote a blog post – prompted by reading an interview with Mary Norris, a proofreader and copy editor with The New Yorker – which perfectly described how proofreading is, in fact, a creative process. See the post here.
Like everyone else who works in front of a computer, I start off my day with admin. Then off I go, on my mission to correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. A friend of mine once said, ‘how can you bear to go through a manuscript nit-picking for all the mistakes?’ and I replied that I actively enjoy it. Every time I open a new work, I love the thought that I’m about to help improve a creative piece of writing. Right at that time, I’m doing exactly what I want to do; how much more can we ask of our work than that?
I have worked on all sorts of books, long and short, fact and fiction (mostly the latter), sci-fi, romcom, epic fantasy, horror – every genre imaginable. An unexpected bonus is that I’ve been introduced to genres I would never have considered reading before; who’d have thought I’d enjoy a ‘YA/coming of age’ book? Not me, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Oh, and sometimes I’ve leapt on a particular howler of a typo and laughed out loud – we all make them, and I’ve made a list of some of my favourites. See the list here.
Before full-time, self-employed proofreading, I worked in many different industries. Most recently I worked as a secretary for a firm of architects. I was forever pointing out to colleagues that they’d used a comma where they should have used a semicolon/explaining the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’/crossing out dangling participles etc (no really, I did have some friends) until my boss decreed that no document should leave the office until I’d checked it. As you may imagine, this edict played right into my wheel house. One day it occurred to me that I could do this for myself, full time. 18 months of planning, working 2/3 jobs for a little while, and general hard work, and I gradually managed to become established within the writing community.
From time to time I receive messages from people asking me how they too can become a proofreader – a noble aim! I tell them the most important thing is, make sure you can do the job. All that stuff you reckon you know about the English language – how much more do you need to know? Double it, then treble it; there’s always so much more to learn. I believe that I learn something new every day. What about those proofreading courses you see advertised? Well, I’m sure one can learn something from them of course, but if you don’t already know how to punctuate perfectly and spot grammatical and spelling errors, they won’t enable or qualify you to do so. I am also very sceptical about their promises of guaranteed work.
Of course, as anyone knows who works alone from home (more and more of us these days), we also have to take time off at regular intervals to eat/stretch our legs/do chores. Even if I can’t do yoga or work out with Jo Wicks (even the thought of that makes me want a cup of tea and a little lie down), I can do some stretches and go for a walk.
And my day doesn’t involve Jason Momoa at all, but a girl can live in hope!