Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Writer-Geek Heaven... two days spent bundled under an afghan in a rocking chair , with my manuscript, a sharp pencil, big pink eraser, a cup of coffee, and the Chicago Manual of Style. Outside, it rained; inside, kitties snoozed on the bed. A cozier, nerdier time could not have been had.

It was time to review copyedits.

As I mentioned in my last post, I adore copyeditors. First, I strongly suspect that they are even geekier than I am. Second, as I noted before, it’s the copyeditor’s job to keep me from making an idiot of myself in public. As I went through the manuscript, one thing became clear: me and proper comma use, not so much acquainted. What can I say? I put them where the pauses sound in my head.

So if the copyeditor is catching all the mistakes, what is the manuscript doing back on my lap, the person who made the mistakes to begin with? Because my job, at this junction, is to go through every change suggested by the copyeditor. The author may not have final say over the cover or the title, but s/he has absolute, final say over the actual writing. If I felt it was utterly essential that those commas stayed where I originally put them, then all I needed to do was indicate so on the manuscript. Take that, Strunk and White!* My word is law!

Then again, my manuscript was blessed with a wonderful copyeditor who really knows her stuff. That, and I’m not an idiot.

Reviewing copyedits isn't all coziness; it's also stressful, and not only because I'm never sure if I'm making the little squiggle at the end of a line deletion correctly. This is crunch time, the last chance an author has to make any significant changes. By this time, I have so many different versions of certain scenes in my head, it's hard to see the words fresh on the page the way a reader will. And there's not much time to ponder. One week to turn the manuscript around. But by Monday afternoon, I was done, the sun was out again, and the manuscript was winging its way back to New York--in better condition, I hope, than when it arrived.

*"Strunk and White" is the nickname for the book The Elements of Style. It was originally written by William Strunk, Jr. a zillion years ago, added onto by E.B. White only a million years ago, and is the one essential reference on written English that everyone should have. Everyone. It's only about 80 pages long and it's plain, clear, common good sense and a masterpiece. So no, I don't really defy Strunk and White. But I could. If I wanted to.


Anonymous said...

And how many times have you read Strunk and White cover to cover? That's the real test of geekiness

Christine Fletcher said...

Only once, I think. Hmmm... My geek quotient must be slipping.