Melanie Pinola on Proofreading

"Read the piece from someone else's point of view."

Over countless Google Docs comments and Slack conversations, Melanie Pinola shaped my writing and that of numbers other Zapier team members and freelancers over the years our tenure overlapped. She’s the editor who got me here. Perhaps of all the people interviewed in the Reproof proofreading interview series, I’m most proud to have Melanie share her thoughts on how to get your idea written into something ready for publication.

Here's Melanie on her writing and proofreading workflow:

What is the secret to writing?

Writing's just combining different words together to try to make a whole.

I'm not sure if there are any secrets. I think look to the works of writers you enjoy and try to deconstruct what makes those pieces great. (I sometimes do that with food, because I love dining out. So sometimes I'll play a game with my family trying to guess which flavors are in the dish, how they cooked it, etc.) Writing's just combining different words together to try to make a whole. Lots of analogies there to other arts and industries.

What's your favorite thing you've written recently?

I recently wrote a piece for Consumer Reports on how to preserve your family's memories (photos, videos, other important artifacts). It's something I think about a lot—passing on your legacy and making sure your digital stuff doesn't get lost. But this article was especially important to me because I got a chance to highlight others' stories, particularly Black family historians and museum experts. Some of the people I interviewed shared things like learning about their great-great-great-grandfather's background.

What's your standard writing workflow?

It depends on the day, to be honest. Some days, I'm writing almost nonstop (to the point where my husband has to come up with plates of food and cups of water to remind me I need nourishment). Other days, I struggle writing and rewriting the same first paragraph. But typically (or what I aim to do), I have an outline in place, I've gathered my research for all those points, and then I fill in the gaps. I'm a big fan of structure, of knowing where I want to go. But of course an editor's comment or my own fresh eyes days later can mean changing course.

So: idea with some research > outline > more research > draft > rewrite the lede > reconsider the outline > rewrite the draft > edit

What's your favorite way to proofread your work and spot things to change?

For grammatical and other technical things, I use tools like Grammarly. But generally speaking, as someone who edits other people's work, I'm always asking myself if this particular sentence or paragraph or point makes sense to the reader or if it's something my editor would cut or question. I try to read the piece from someone else's point of view. It's a bit of defensive writing, like defensive driving. Most of the time, I have a gut feeling about something I've just written—it needs more meat or there are unnecessary words.

When something's particularly challenging or important for me to get right, I ask people I trust to read it over. Sometimes it's a colleague. Sometimes it's my daughter.

What do you do with the things you cut?

I keep almost everything I cut because there's always a chance it can live on in another piece. In Scrivener, for long-form pieces like magazine articles, books, or short stories, I have a cut folder. When I'm writing a short piece, like a blog post, in OneNote, I cut pieces and move them to the side of the main text box, just in case I want to add that back into the story later.

What's your ideal editing workflow?

Ideally? The editor adds comments on different parts of the piece to praise my work and say what they liked about that part. And then it goes off to print/publish.

I do appreciate constructive criticism, though. I think editors have the hard job of being that invisible person who makes writers' work even better.

So, realistically, I'd discuss a pitch with my editor and we'd settle on a deadline. After doing a bit of research or thinking about it more, I might submit an outline to make sure I'm not missing anything. Then I'd write the draft, the editor would review it with comments and suggestions, and after I revise the draft it gets the okay and the piece is out of my hands. On to the next thing.

→ Check out Melanie Pinola's writing portfolio, and follow her on Twitter @melaniepinola.

The writing platform for creativity