The Origin of a Proofreader

What comes to mind when you think about proofreaders? Perhaps, a harried pencil-pushing, glasses-wearing word nerd with hair pulled out yay far (imagine hands extending from each side of one’s head), another pencil behind the ear, and sweat beading down the side of his/her face—all the while deciding where a comma should be placed. Is that close?

So how do we become proofreaders—purveyors of the English language…guardians of the editorial torch…sword-wielding scavengers of punctuation?

It all began as a child. My mother, a school teacher, taught me to read very early on—preschool, in fact. I quickly devoured every story that came my way. By the time I hit kindergarten, I was so far ahead of the rest of the class that the school moved me ahead to first grade just to keep me from getting bored.

From then on, everything was about words. I loved to read. I loved to write. I excelled in spelling bees, and vividly recall being tossed out of a regional competition in eighth grade on the word stevedore—a word I have never forgotten since.

I began writing short stories and novels and poetry—anything that came to mind. Writing and reading were, for me, a way to experience other worlds beyond my own. I always read well beyond my age level and was known by the seventh grade to hand in book reports on such adult classics as The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, much to the horror of my Catholic grade school teachers at St. Bernard’s in Rockville, CT. (I can only wonder what the nuns thought.)

Fast forward 30 years, and here I am running a proofreading/editing business—loving every minute of it! I spend more time reading and writing these days, though I admit that it’s all related to other folks’ work, and not my own. I still love it just the same. Every client’s work is an opportunity to learn more about the world around me, to experience another business person’s desires and goals, and to live a story written through the eyes and heart of another writer.

Truthfully, proofreaders are a bunch of word-loving lexicographers with a huge penchant for the English language and everything related…but I can only speak for myself. I sit at my computer—a red pen having been deftly replaced by fingers at a keyboard, Microsoft Word’s Tracking Changes function, and a myriad of style guides: AP, APA, The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam Webster’s, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, and more!

Perhaps the description in the beginning better pertains to the person who has had the unlikely task of proofreading dumped in their laps by a desperate employer. (Don’t abuse your employees. Pay them for the job you hired them to do. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.) Leave the rest up to the word nerds…grammar gurus…punctuation police.

Mostly, the job is about helping others and making the world a better place…one word at a time.


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