The Writing Life: The Dusty Road to Copy Edit Completion

I’ve been gone a while.

In this period of absence I’d like to say I’ve been finishing off the edits to The Killer and The Dead.

Nope.

I’ve been working, dieting (dieting takes a whole lot of my mental energy, it turns out – I really have to focus on not eating, hahaha!), and doing festive things.

I also had the Georgetown Book Nook to prepare for and then participate in.

It was awesome.

My thanks to the organizers, my fellow authors, the visiting public, and especially to those adventurous souls who bought a book from a sweaty man in a kilt!

I learned a lot from the experience, like it would be a good idea to have an easy to read blurb for your book available. And maybe a sign clearly indicating what genre you write. I also discovered I need to work out how to stand to have my picture taken without fidgeting and feeling as photogenic as a rotting potato. It’s a thing.

But really, I did have a lot of fun, and did take mental (and some actual) notes on what to improve for next time out. I don’t know when that will be, but it shall happen again!

So around all that not a lot of copy editing has taken place. There is one big reason for this I think, and it feeds into a bunch of other reasons that can happily explain why writers can get lost in this stage of editing, crying and screaming and never, ever finishing.

Copy editing is like cleaning hundreds of glass tables in a very dusty room with no ventilation.

You (I, really) think that you are just going to whizz in, wipe down each table quickly, and everything will be done, hundreds of tables sparkly clean just like that.

No. You start cleaning one corner of one table, and it raises a huge cloud of dust, that causes you to sneeze, and send dust and mucous flying in unlovely concert to spatter across other tables. So you put a mask on, and start again. You clean that same corner, fix the grammar, make sure of tenses, (yes, I’m still wrangling with them, and now it is very annoying because I don’t want to have tense choice give away story decisions, or even hint in a way that could make a reader feel cheated later. That. Is. A. Headache.) clean up word repetitions, apart from the ones you want to leave in as a stylistic choice/maintenance of your narrator’s voice, and then maybe read that paragraph aloud to see how it sounds to ensure there are no lingering issues with phrasing.

You have one shiny corner, of one table, in a room full of them. The dust you raised slowly settles, and some of it lands back on your cleaned corner, dirtying it once again. You look at your ‘completed’ section and notice new flaws, realize a fix or two you made created new problems, both there, and maybe later – have you just set up difficulties further into the text – added to the dust on other tables already thick with it?

You don’t want to despair. Not yet. So in addition to your mask, you get a damp cloth, so you don’t raise dust to scatter it elsewhere, not this time.

You know where I’m going with this by now, I hope. Different “you” that time. It gets confusing, this writing business, when you look at it closely. Anyway, back to the other you, the one living in the metaphor…

You reclean your corner, maybe extend it a bit, feel like you are making progress, the damp cloth holding the dust to it, not throwing it up into the air. This pass you decide not to get lost in the minutiae, deal with the most obvious issues, tell yourself most readers will not care about the things you are agonizing over, even as you recall your certainty that it is taking this care over your writing is what can help set it apart. Can both of these statements be true? The demon Doubt dustily laughs his question from over in the inevitably darkened corner where he had been lurking. (I believe both statements can be true, but that’s a chat for another time.)

You look down at your cleaned glass table. Your damp cloth has left great streaks across it, wet smears of dirt marring the surface. And Doubt’s laughter has raised more dust to settle over the scene, leaving your polished glass looking like a rutted field covered in ash.

Now, you despair.

I didn’t say what the one big reason is. I went all metaphorical instead.

And I’m not despairing. I’m gathering my strength, and readying a very powerful metaphorical vacuum cleaner.

Baby steps, multiple passes, each time reducing the dust in the room, punching holes in the walls for ventilation, emptying the vacuum over and over again, but elsewhere, where the dust cannot return to interfere with the next pass.

Eventually the tables will be clean, and maybe that will be enough. Or perhaps you will want them to shine, all of them. So another pass. And another. But you have to be careful not to polish so hard you start breaking the glass…

I’m really torturing the metaphor now, so I’ll stop here.

At some point in copy editing you have to do the same.

That is a ways off for me at present, but the journey has been started. It is a long road, but I know I can do it, I’ve done it before. Writing this has helped galvanize me. How cool is that?

See you again soon!

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6 thoughts on “The Writing Life: The Dusty Road to Copy Edit Completion

  1. Pingback: The Writing Life: Thinking about Analogy – Roderick T. Macdonald

  2. Pingback: The Writing Life: Trust Your Editor and Yourself When Dusting Glass Tables – Roderick T. Macdonald

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