I’m in the process of editing my manuscript, OUR DAILY BREAD, which will be published in the fall. Now, I’ve read this manuscript probably thirty times. My Best Beloved, who is also my first reader, has probably read it five times. My agent has read it at least once. My editor has read it a few times. All these people have caught errors, bless ’em. So, you’d think we would have caught sentences like these: “I’m you don’t mind Ivy helping me” or “It seemed there was there no end to the surprising things Dorothy might find herself saying.” But no.
I’m one of those dreadful people who delight in keeping a (red) pencil at hand when reading other people’s books. I correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax. I have a nearly neurotic loathing of extra connecting verbs and ‘that,’ as in this student’s example: She had hoped
that she and Joe would have travel led together, but it was now clear that he needed more time to recover.
I read a book by a famous writer not long ago and scratched out twelve ‘thats’ on one page.
And yet, I do not have a proofreader’s genetic predisposition to spotting errors, not really. Not like Anne Fadiman, the splendid writer and daughter of legendary editor Clifton Fadiman. In her terrific book of essays, EX LIBRIS, she admits she comes from a tribe of compulsive proofreaders and describes a family dinner at a fancy restaurant thusly:
As we bent our heads over our menus — all of us, that is, except my father, who can’t see — I realized that our identically rapt expressions had nothing to do with deciding what we wanted to eat.
“They’ve transposed the e and the i in Madeira sauce,” commented my brother.
“They’ve made Bel Paese into one word,” I said, “and it’s lowercase.”
“At least they spell better than the place where we had dinner last Tuesday,” said my mother. “They serve P-E-A-K-I-N-G duck.”
Now, I can’t help but think she could have done without the ‘that’ in the first sentence, but who am I to argue with a Fadiman? The point is, should Ms. Fadiman ever read one of my books, she will doubtless find at least several misspellings, typos, grammatical and punctuational catastrophes. I have learned to accept this, and even be grateful to people who point them out to me. I suspect there may well be such errors on this very page. Feel free to let me know.
I like to think my mind runs faster than my eye, magically cleaning up my mistakes before I notice them, but it’s more likely I’ve simply read the same damn sentences over so many times I don’t really see them anymore.
Perhaps such errors are like the golf clubs My Best Beloved plopped down by the mudroom door several years ago and promised to move…soon. Of course, they’re still there. I have concluded he didn’t lie when he said he’d move them, it’s just that he doesn’t see them anymore. They’ve become part of the background, a gray lumpy blur his eye doesn’t register anymore. Heck, I don’t even notice them any more.
In this case perhaps familiarity breeds, not contempt, but disregard… which is surely the reason why the first sentence in my novel, I’ve only just noticed, reads thus:
Near the top of North Mountain a tumbledown shed leaned against an old, lightning-struck oak at the edge of an raggedy field.
Clearly, I’ve much work to do.
I just started a full edit on my manuscript for about the third or fourth time. For me, I find it best to let it sit for a while and go back at it with a more objective eye. Also, I have to work on it for eight hours a day (minimum) for about four to five days, re-writing as I go along, typing in all the changes at the end. If my full edit stretched over three or four weeks, I would not catch the inconsistencies or gain the same impact as a reader who might finish the book in a couple of days. How else would I be able to test the pace of the story? I’ve finished off three chapters so far, and I found a few missed words and a few sentences that weren’t quite clear enough in their meaning. I normally loathe editing, but with the lapse of time, it has also given me a new appreciation of those passages that really sing!
My literary agent wants the changes made prior to attending the London Book Fair in April. I’ve promised January 31 or sooner. I’m okay with it. I’m not dreading the deadline!
Glad to hear you have a publisher for your new book.
I enjoyed this post so much, as I do all your posts! I worked for Time Life Books years ago. Your post brought back memories! They employed what were called “overreaders” for the book series: freelancers from outside the company who would read each set of completed page proofs, who hadn’t seen the manuscript before. They were required to complete the reading in as short a period as possible – within a day or two – because they’d be more likely to catch any continuity issues with the full text fresh in mind. They might catch typos, grammar issues or general inconsistencies.
As the saying goes, “it takes a village”! It helps so much to have a brand new pair of eyes on manuscript.
Good luck! I’m sure it will all turn out well.
Thank you very much for quoting almost perfectly this section of Ex Libris for which I searched this evening, and which I re-read with some amusement. The lumpy golf club of error aptly resides within your transcription of Ms Fadiman’s essay: the line ought to read “commented my brother”.
Thanks, Katherine. I’m the WORST typist!