Inner Chat

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
- Oscar Wilde

Recently I found myself caught in a stream of inner chat as I made my way through proofreading copyedits to A Certain Grace. Instructions from Editor John to me and Editor Allan were simple: “Don’t worry about the widows and orphans, just take a look at the copy edits and try to catch any typos.”

Widows and orphans, as I recalled from the work we did on Harbour View, are the little nicks and crosses, bits and bobs of non-text that are essential to the layout of a manuscript. Typos I can handle; typos leap off the page and sting me in the eyeball. This should be a piece of cake.

So I thought.

I printed off the whole thing, all 120 pages, and the thrill of what I was doing set in. The first page of text, which is page 9 of the book (this is a book, I reminded myself), yielded no typos, but here is where the inner chat began:

“P. 9: What about the semi-colon near the bottom of the page? A semi-colon is punctuation. Can I change punctuation? It’s not exactly a typo, but if I can’t change that semi-colon, my life will be ruined.”

I put an X beside the offending sentence and continued.

P. 16: “Hello, who’s the subject of that sentence? There really, really needs to be a comma there to be perfectly clear. Can I add a comma this late in the game? Will adding a comma wreck the entire layout? I hope Editor John won’t mind, because if I can’t add that comma, my life will be ruined.”

I put an X beside the offending sentence and continued.

P. 27: “Wait a minute. That is entirely the wrong word. In fact, those two words are all wrong, they knock the story off its plot and spoil the characterization, dialogue, and setting. Editor John is going to kill me, but if I can’t change those two words, my life will be ruined.”

By the time I finished with the story, the Xs were adding up. My breathing was shallow and I began to question the whole thing. Was this story actually any good at all? What was Editor John thinking when he decided to go with it?? What was Ithinking when I wrote it??? Furthermore, WHAT ABOUT THE SEMI-COLON ON PAGE 9??!!

I took myself for a walk around the block. Came home, hung up my coat, petted the cat. I decided if I were to continue proofreading effectively, I’d need a different approach. I would simply read through the manuscript without “reading” the stories, and mark an X beside any word, punctuation, or sentence that leapt off the page and stung me in the eye, typo or no typo.

By the end of the day I had all 120 pages read, and about 20 Xs to discuss with Editor John. I went through the twenty points again, and decided only fourteen were valid. Among those discarded was… the semi-colon on Page 9.

My life was not ruined.

A few days later I heard back from Editor John, who had gone through the manuscript with my requests in hand, and made all the changes. Editor Allan found a handful of typos I’d missed.

Now it’s off to the real proofreaders.


Categories: General.