February 9, 2011

Thoughts From Inside a Manuscript

I am spending today the way I've spent the last few days, which is editing the edits my editor made to the manuscript I sent in just before Christmas.  This is phase two, from an editors perspective, but for me it's phase three, because I insert the additional step "lie awake at night worrying about what the editor is doing to that manuscript and whether or not they are sane and what that might mean to my life and career until I've felt ill for days" in between sending the manuscript and getting it back. 

While I'm not done yet, so far this edit is easy.  The editor and I largely agree about what's funny, good, well written or not, and I think that in the end, all we're really going to go back and forth about is my addiction to ellipses.  (I didn't think there were that many, but you'd be surprised how they stand out when they're highlighted throughout a manuscript.) 

Usually the actual printed out manuscript comes mailed back to me, with things crossed out in red pen, and little notes jotted in the margins. This time the editor suggested sending an electronic file, and doing it all by using the "track changes" function in Word/Pages, and so I'm viewing all the notes and changes on my screen, and I admit I miss several things badly.  While I don't miss the guilt about the paper use, I realize now, as I look at her notes, typed neatly into virtual post-its, that I miss the seeing the editors  handwriting.  I think you can tell a lot about someone from their script and how they wield the pen, and it seemed so much more personal to write back and forth that way- shipping an ever more altered manuscript between the two of us.

All I have to do now, is look at her changes, and click a little box that says "accept" or "reject", and I find it rather unfulfilling, and limiting.  I can't click "consider" or "maybe" or "were you once harmed by a conjunction so that now you're unfair to them", I have only Accept or Reject, and for anything else I must flag the section or the word and type a note.  Now, as you might have suspected if you've been reading here for more than ten minutes, there are a few things I like push back with editors about, mostly things like ellipses colour/color, grey/gray, honour/honor, woollen/woolen... It's not that I think those words should be spelled my way by an American publisher - I don't, but I do think there's value in friendly little reminders that my spelling is not Wrong, it's Different - and jotting wee notes about how she can't spell (I or can't - depending on your perspective) seemed friendly when done in pencil, but in the harsh light of a word processing program, my notes seem so petty, that I find that I'm simply approving her changes and deleting comments that I normally would have written without a thought.

In the full turn of things, it doesn't matter.  I fully expect and accept that I'll be overridden-  I expect to lose these debates, it's an American publisher so I understand what their sense of spelling and grammar will be, and that they choose is appropriate.  I know she'll scrawl a note correcting my mistake, I'll scrawl back that it's not a mistake, and then we'll do it the US way,  but there was something about at least standing up for English vs American English and grammar that felt right to this Canadian. Now, here I am, letting them go without so much as a whimper because  clicking on "add comment" just seems so... formal, like it's being added to my permanent record.  (Just so we're clear, this isn't a universal position change. If I have to, I'm going to the wall on mum/mom. It's not like it's a word that creates confusion. Everyone knows what a mum is, and she's my mother, I decide what she's called.)

It is a very interesting difference to me, that I feel so strongly about the  tiny change from handwriting to typing.  I feel like the editors changes are more serious, that she wouldn't have typed it if she wasn't really committed, and it is making me far more reluctant to change what she's changed back to what I wanted.  Where I'm usually pretty free with the STET,  or at least the "please consider stetting it would really be nice" this one small alteration, that it's an electronic, real change rather than a friendly arc of my pencil, makes me feel almost rude and demanding.  I feel like with a pencil I can make myself clearer.  I can write in script, in block letters.. I can press firmly (and in so doing, convey some firmness... ) or draw arrows or smiles or alligators.  (I have only once drawn an alligator  on a manuscript, but I assure you it was the only way to convey my true meaning.)  Typing, it's one way, and it's an actual alteration to the manuscript and it seems so - real.  It doesn't seem like we're negotiating and considering, but like we're making actual firm changes.  I type, and her perspective is erased... which you would think I would like, but there you have it.

I'm going to stick with it, mostly because I know I'm change resistant and maybe the feeling will fade, and because it's fewer trees, and because I have always felt ill while the manuscript was in the mail, in case it ever got lost.  I'm going to be really openminded about it, but I wonder if in the end, it doesn't remind me of the impersonal nature of store bought socks or typed thank you notes.  You know?

Maybe I need more fonts, or coffee, and I know this has nothing at all to do with knitting (except that it's a book about knitting) but it's what I was thinking today. Being a writer is a weird job.

Posted by Stephanie at February 9, 2011 1:49 PM