Archive for February, 2008


The Proof Dance

The final pages of the new novel arrived last month. They weren’t due back until the end of February, my editor told me–an unusually generous deadline.

So I fucked off for a while, putting off the engagement. Until anxiety outweighed terror and I forced myself to dig into the page pile.

Because proofing the final pages always destroys me. Maybe it’s the finality of it–once you finish this pass, the book is gone, out of your hands. It’s not going to get any better.

And there’s something about the kind of attention you have to pay when proofreading that seems to turn formerly good, readable prose into loose, empty babble, childish and awkward. Bad, bad, bad.

It utterly fills me with despair. My career is over, I think as my head sinks toward the paperstrewn desktop. Why did I ever think I could do this?

And that’s just the first pass, the one where you discover how many truly stupid mistakes have gotten this far and need to be corrected. Typos, okay, I can live with typos, though that I missed them so many times before finally catching them at the last possible moment makes me doubt all judgment and ability.

But it’s the bad writing, the awkward turns of phrase, the unnecessary puffed-out words that really eat into me. The things I’m not supposed to change at this late stage in the process.

But they are unquestionably mistakes, so I change them, as much as I feel I can get away with.

The second pass is less grisly overall, but has its high points of anxiety and indecision. This is the pass I take to decide whether or not to actually make the changes I’d noted down during the first reading. It’s supposed to be just reading the changes, but always ends up as a second word for word proofing. It just does.

But the level of attention is different from a close proofreading, a step back from the pure nuts and bolts of it, and I start to see my own words as somewhat readable again. Maybe it’s not so bad after all. Some parts of it seem kind of well written, if you squint.

Then, finally, the third pass, in which I see if the decisions I’d made in the second pass hold up. Again, for reasons of efficiency, I mean only to read the changes. But always get hooked into reading long sections, basically all of it again, though not necessarily in order.

And a great thing happens. It reads! It seems good to me!

I’m in love again.

Ready to ship.

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