I am a nervous person. I have a lot of anxieties flying around in my head at any given moment. Sometimes I picture my anxious brain as the Loony Tunes Tasmanian devil. When it starts to worry, it sets off in a chaotic, spinning path that can destroy entire afternoons.
I’ve tried meditation, but it never seems to stick. Once in a while I pick up a crafty hobby to calm my mind. I’ve dabbled in crocheting, beading, calligraphy, and most recently, weaving. Whatever form it takes, it requires the same kind of close-up focus and patience to finish the project. Apparently, my brain craves this kind of concentration.
Proofreading makes me calm. I have nothing else to focus on but the words in front of me. My mind is forced to slow down as my pen bounces along a string of words underlined by my ruler. If I see a problem, I pause and turn to a book or the computer to find the appropriate solution. Then I pick up where I started and continue along. I have checklists. It’s repetitive. It requires an interested concentration, or as I recently heard described in a podcast, “exquisite attention”.
Sometimes it feels like I am not naturally wired to do this kind of exercise. If I set my mind free, it zooms out to helicopter-view and tries to see everything—all problems, all solutions—in one perspective. This can be a useful view for finding connections and patterns. But it can also be overwhelming. Thoughts dart in all directions, trying to take it all in without fully taking in one single thing.
Because of this tendency to zoom out, I have to turn on the right mindset for proofreading. If I feel myself skimming text or skipping through checklists haphazardly, I know it’s time to pause and reset: take a walk, stare out the window, go into the kitchen and do something with my hands to slow down my thoughts. (Lately, I’ve been enjoying de-seeding pomegranates under water.) If reset successfully, I can pick up the pen and ruler and carry on with the methodical checking for hours.
Proofreading is a muscle I try to tone regularly, regardless of what I’m working on. The more often I occupy this careful and patient mindset, the easier I can access it. It’s not only about strengthening my skills and staying on top of my editing game. It’s also about taking advantage of the personal benefits this work offers me.