16 February 2015

Let it go

As I held the cursor over the Send icon, my heart raced. I was about to submit my novel to my chosen self-publishing company, but it felt like such a final act that my finger might as well have been hovering over the nuclear button.

I'd edited the manuscript countless times during almost 10 years of painful, on-off gestation. Once I'd clicked that mouse, though, there would be no going back, no more changes allowed. 

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Send.

It was gone, and I wouldn't review it again until it had first been proofread, then typeset. Or would I?

The publishing director responded a few days later to confirm that she was happy to take my novel on and felt it was so polished that it didn't need a 'human' proofread. She proposed, instead, to run it through a specialist proofreading programme, just as a final check.

From a financial point of view, this was good news. However, I'd been relying on somebody else to pick up any errors I'd overlooked. In fact, that element of reassurance was all that had enabled me to override my perfectionist nature and submit it at all. 

For a start, I knew that my understanding of semicolons was fuzzy. When I'd run the automated spelling and grammar check, it had screamed 'Semicolon Use' at me enough times to indicate I had a problem. As the proofreading software might not catch that kind of thing, the publishing director and I agreed that I would go through the manuscript again - as soon as I'd given myself a grammar lesson in that particular punctuation point.

And that's how I found myself once more trawling through 95,000 words of text that I'd thought I was done with. The 'Ctrl+F' (Find) facility revealed that I'd used 348 semicolons, but I couldn't face reviewing them all, so trusted the automated check to guide me back to those I'd got wrong. 

It took about four hours to find and fix my mistakes - by which time I could have appeared on the quiz show Mastermind with semicolons as my specialist subject. Unfortunately, though, my work still wasn't done. 

While searching grammar advice online, I'd come across an article by author Jonathan Franzen about writers' use of 'comma-then', eg 'Helen checked all of the grammar in her novel, then submitted it to her publisher.' The piece was damning of such 'lazy' writing. Checking my manuscript, I discovered that I was guilty of doing this - a lot - and realised that my work would, indeed, be improved by cutting it out. Several hours later, with the help of my new favourite command 'Ctrl+F', I'd remedied this issue, too.

While I cursed at having to go back over my novel again (and again), being a perfectionist does, at least, give me the stamina to persevere. And as Samuel Johnson said, 'What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.' After the amount of effort I've put in, reading my novel should prove to be a positively blissful experience then!


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PS A few days after submitting the revised version, I was suddenly wracked with doubt as to whether the automated review had picked up all of my semicolon errors - a spot check revealed that it hadn't. So, I had to start all over again and double-check every last one...

4 comments:

cindy said...

Sometimes it's nice to have a few degrees in English and to have checked so many college essays for grammar errors, but when it comes to my own work, I still get edited every time:)

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Cindy, I will be enlisting the help of some eagle-eyed writing friends as back-up proofreaders!

ocdtalk said...

At some point I think we just have to be satisfied with what we have, though I know that's easier said than done! Congrats on moving forward with your book publishing!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk - as I have a need for 'completeness' in all kinds of things, it will be good to get my book out there and, finally, finish that project...