Editing – Argh!

Do you remember those innocent days when you thought the hard part was going to be writing the book? Then you discovered that when the writing was finished, the book really wasn’t, because you still needed to do editing (cue scary music).

[First, let me define my term. I include under the editing umbrella fixing up the plot, making sure the continuity is right, tightening up the writing, making sure the word usage is correct, as well as the grammar, spelling (not so difficult any more now that there’s spell check, but then it’s not perfect in that the word can be spelled right but still be the wrong word, e.g., mean when it should have been meant), and punctuation, and that last huge bugbear, proofreading. There may be more things to it, but those are what come to mind offhand.]

Fixing up the plot isn’t so bad. I think by the time you reach ‘The End,’ you already have a pretty good idea of the places you have to go back to and fix up so that everything is copacetic and cohesive. Continuity problems should stand out when you do a read-through (but apparently they don’t always, not even for best-selling authors with professional editors. Case in point: I recently read a James Patterson-Alex Cross novel in which the Cross family was having their kitchen remodeled and had no access to their stove. The 90-something grandmother was doing all the cooking on a hot plate in the dining room. Yet she managed to make ‘baked’ pork chops for the family. There is no way one can bake on a hot plate. That ‘baked’ should have been ‘fried.’ And who lets their 90-year-old grandmother do all the cooking for the family? Especially since in a prior book she had almost total body failure, heart, lungs, kidneys, and now she’s back slaving over a hot plate? Does that qualify as elder abuse?)

Tightening the writing isn’t too bad once you get over the feeling that every word you wrote is precious and deserves to be in the book. I was very lucky in that I went back to college later in life and had two history teachers who were excellent editors — they even slashed up the essays you wrote during a test — and I got to see first hand how much better writing can be when you get rid of the excesses. Not that it’s always easy, but I have been willing to get rid of a lot more than I used to if it made things move faster and more readable.

Sometimes in the haste of trying to get it all down, you might use a word you think is right, but maybe it isn’t. I’ve been surprised sometimes when I’ve used familiar word and checked its definition and found out its real meaning wasn’t quite what I thought it was. (Another case in point: prodigal. Everyone assumes from the Bible story that it means long lost. Nope. Try wasteful. It’s misused about 99.9% of the time.) If you don’t own a dictionary, use an online version.

But the worst part of all in editing is proofreading. It’s horrible. It should be banned. But it’s absolutely necessary, and unfortunately, at least in my case, has to be done multiple times. Because you know what’s supposed to be there, and whether it’s there or not, your helpful brain lets you see what you expect to see. Like the ‘or’ when it should be ‘of’ or ‘of’ when it should be ‘if.’ And it’s not just the little things. I think I read my most recent work five times before I noticed that in one part the phrase ‘for the’ actually read ‘for the for the.’ Now, how did that happen? I can’t imagine that in my haste to get what I wanted to say down on paper I actually typed the same words twice. It had to be the gremlin that lives in my computer. I have yet to figure out an easier way to proofread, and if somebody knows something, please share it. I’ve tried reading the manuscript out loud which I felt was a surefire way to catch mistakes, but that proved not to be true. I’ve passed it on to friends. In one instant, the first friend found about 25 typos. In the process of correcting what she’d found, I found about 75 more. The friend that read that corrected copy found some more after that. And that was in a manuscript I thought was in excellent shape when I gave it to the first reader.

And bear in mind that editing holds fast to Murphy’s Law: it’s going to take much longer than you think. I had thought I’d have a book ready to publish in early September. I finally published it yesterday. Murphy’s Law in action. I hope I didn’t miss anything, or at least not anything too glaring when editing. But if I did, I’ll remind myself that even professionals screw up some time. In the same James Patterson book mentioned above, there was a word, it might have been ‘lucky’ or something similar, that was written along the lines of l*uc&ky.’ I thought at first it was supposed to be a comic strip type expletive, but no, it was just a normal part of the sentence.

Good luck with your own editing!

(And in a blatant bit of self-promotion, here is a link to my latest book:




To Print or Not To Print

It was a number of years ago that I stopped printing out copies of my books, for a couple different reasons. My storage space was, and still is, minimal, and I thought the space I’d need for future manuscripts could best be used otherwise. Ecologically, my print-outs could be viewed as a waste of paper/trees; after all, I had the original documents on computer and if I needed a hard copy, I could always print one at some future time.

This last notion turned out to be a big mistake.

I’ve run into a streak of bad luck with files saved on the computer or flash drives lately. Did you know that flash drives and external hard drives have a life expectancy of about 5 years? An IT person who’d helped me when my digital camera ate all my photos had warned me of that, probably about 5 years ago, but I didn’t listen then, and I’m sorry now. I’m having files go corrupt on me right and left. And then there’s file content that has just disappeared. I’d done a complete edit of a book and was going to take one last look at it before I uploaded it to KDP. I opened the file, and nothing was there. That was okay, I reassured myself, because I save things to more than one place in lieu of printing anything. I had it on a flash (only it had disappeared there), I had it on the hard drive, and I had it on an external hard drive.

Only I didn’t.

All three files were there by name, but were completely blank when I opened them. I ran searches, hoping I’d find the files mis-saved somewhere, but nothing ever showed up. And I didn’t have a hard copy. Fortunately, I had once taken my flash drive to work to use that computer to do something and had saved a copy of the file there. It wasn’t an edited version but at least it was a copy I could use to start over. If I’d had to rewrite that book, I don’t think I could have done it. As it was, it probably took me six weeks to redo the editing/rewriting I’d already done.

I had another file that went corrupt in a strange manner; most of the file is there, but there are big gaps in it just containing computer gobbley-gook. I’ve printed out what text I have, but I haven’t had the heart to see if I can recreate the missing portions.

Then, just this week, I turned on the computer, ready to do my writing for the day. I went to the end of the file of my WIP and something was wrong. I’d had a stellar day the day before and produced far beyond my usual word count.

Only now it wasn’t there. Seventeen pages gone.

I held my breath as I closed that file and opened the file on my external hard drive. The pages were there! Big sigh of relief.

All this has started me rethinking going without printing a manuscript and trusting the computer to have it there and waiting for me. I’m even thinking along the lines of printing my output on a daily basis, because if I have a case of a full or partially disappearing manuscript again, at least I’d have a way to reproduce it. Yes, it would be a pain to have to retype it into the computer, but far less of a pain than having to recreate it from scratch.

There’s got to be a way I can make up that paper use ecologically. Or maybe I already am. E-books don’t use up any trees, after all.

So consider printing to be on the safe side. And keep track of how old your flash drives and external hard drives are. Apparently the IT guy did know what he was talking about.