Garrison Keillor’s advice struck a chord the first time I heard it, and I often come back to it:
My advice to writers is very simple. It is to get out. Get out more, don’t sit in the house. Go for walks, it’s good for you. Writing is an obsessive activity and it’s too easy to get too tied to what you’re doing. When your deadline is the most serious, that’s the most important time to get out of the house and go for a walk. Walk for 2 or 3 miles every day – rapidly, if necessary – but get out and look at the world. Writing is not narcissism. Writing is about the world we live in, and when writing loses touch with the beautiful surface of the world, it loses its way. So much writing is about the alienation of a superior intelligence that is the writer’s – that’s the writing to avoid. You always want to be in touch with how things look, what people say and what they call their dogs. You always want to be there. Erma Bombeck‘s strength as a writer was that she knew the names of things, she knew what was in people’s homes, she called things by the right names. She got out among people.
Keillor’s advice is addressed to writers, but the same applies to proofreaders. Get out – and take your text with you.
Because it’s possible to get too comfortable indoors. Cosy-ing up with words and reading by the fire is great – hygge and all that. Rather like cats, words love it when you give them your undivided attention. But when you spend too much time with the same words in the same place, it’s easy to get cabin fever. It’s not good for you, or for them.
I’ve been there, I’m sure we all have. Sometimes it’s possible not to see another person for days – the postman, perhaps – and my cat Vincenzo is good at telling me when I’ve got to the stage when I need to step away from the keyboard (he paws at my legs and miaows very loudly: “Come away from there and give me some attention!”).
He’s always right. So if you’re one for taking your laptop out and about with you, that’s great (I’ve just acquired one that’s small and light enough for me to do this). Otherwise, make your text portable by printing it out. Get out of the house or office and carry it around with you. Put yourself and your text in new locations and enjoy each other in new places. Go to a coffee shop, library, work hub or park bench.
You might even like to try a spot of microproofreading – glancing at your printed text, if it’s small enough, while queueing at the bank or supermarket, or some such place where you need to hang around for a while. New contexts can cause you to notice different things.
If writing is, as Garrison Keillor says, an obsessive activity, then proofreading certainly is. Refreshing your relationship with words is important as it will prompt different ways of seeing – which is always a good thing for proofreading. If cake is involved, even better.
What do you think? Do you find Garrison Keillor’s advice helpful, or do you prefer to stay in? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to post a comment below.