The Anxieties of Final Edits

Remember that manuscript I was so happy to complete in early August?  It has already reached the copy-editing phase.  I honestly don’t know whether this editing cycle moved more quickly than years past or whether this is simply another indication that time moves faster as one ages.  Regardless, my little baby (named LONG GONE)  grew from barely hatched to escaping the nest in what felt like record time.

My husband would like me to view the briskness of the editing as evidence that this manuscript was my strongest draft yet.  Because I never turn down the opportunity to embrace a compliment, I’m choosing that version of the story.

I’m reading LONG GONE aloud to myself right now, word by word, with caution and scrutiny, trying to reach the highest level of polish.

So NOT how I look when I read aloud to myself. Who comes up with this stuff?

So far, my changes have been pretty minor.  Some random pages, for example: On page 32, I’ve changed “watching him” to “monitoring him,” and changed “watching his back” to “checking his back.”  (I apparently had the word “watch” bouncing around my synapses a bit too much the day I wrote that one.)  I also changed “wine” to “Chardonnay,” because I now know a very minor character well enough to say she’d drink Chardonnay. On page 229, I’ve changed “house” to “home.”  On 243, I changed “out to the country” to “up to the country.”

I’m pretty sure these aren’t the changes that will make the difference between a starred review and not, or a bestselling book or not, but they are changes I value even if no one else notices.  I also find comfort in their insignificance.  If I can read an entire novel aloud and find myself wanting only these tiny little amendments, then I can be proud knowing this is the very best book I’m capable of writing.

But… Oh, c’mon, you knew there’d be a but.

Some of the changes I’ve made aren’t that small.  Well, let me qualify that.  They are in fact small in that they aren’t big.  I haven’t suddenly decided that a character’s motives need to change or that a plot twist doesn’t actually work.  That kind of discovery would send me leaping from the nearest window.

But some of the changes I’ve made really NEEDED to be made.  I’m slightly halfway through the manuscript and have caught two — count ’em, TWO — typos.

That’s right… typos, the literary version of bedbugs.

Some might say that two typos in 250 manuscript pages ain’t bad.  But those two little errors have placed a lump solidly in the base of my stomach, because they really shouldn’t be there.  I try to write every page as well as I can the first time around.  Then at the beginning of each new writing day, I read what I wrote the previous day to make sure I’m happy with it.  When I reach the final chapter, I read the entire book on my own and make further changes.  Then my editor reads it.  Then I read it again, with her comments in mind.  Then I do another edit, which necessarily requires more reading.  And then the copy-editor gets a hold of it.

And so why are there still two typos (so far) in this fracking manuscript?

At a cold, cognitive level, I know the answer.  The human mind fills in gaps.  Read this sentence and count the number of F’s: “FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.”

How many did you count?  Three?  Four?  Nope.  Believe it or not, there are six letter F’s in that sentence.

If you counted them all on the first try, you’re a genius.  And you should be my copy-editor.  But if you counted fewer, you, like most people, glossed over the f’s in the word “of,” which is used three times in that sentence.  We read for content.  We skip over those pesky articles and prepositions.  And so we make mistakes.

At least I know it’s not me.  I find typos in books all the time.  A few years ago, a #1 bestselling thriller had a typo in the very first sentence.  (Gold star if anyone can name the book.  I won’t.)

But despite the fact that typos are understandable and common, I won’t stop trying to stomp out every last one.  Finding one typo now will save me the scores of emails I’ll surely receive down the road, informing me I’m an idiot. (See this post for my thoughts about these kinds of emails.)

And so here I sit in my office, reading each and every word aloud, with caution and scrutiny, because that — combined with the the layers of check within my writing process — is all I know how to do.  The fact that I’ve found two makes me terribly nervous.  If the layers of review missed two in the last version, how many did I miss this time?

I love to learn from others, so if you have any tried and true tips for finding those pesky typos, please share them in the comments.  Bonus points if you’re willing to share any typo gems.  Here’s a doozie. Earlier this  month a reporter for website published the following correction based on a typo: “This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men.”

(And if you find any typos in this post, which you surely will, feel free not to tell me.)