Never Stop Screwing Things Up

Confession: I don’t like copy edits.

Andy Dwyer gives up. Running is impossible.For those of you unfamiliar with the process, the average manuscript goes through several rounds of edits after it’s acquired. First, there are developmental edits, wherein you and your primary editor adjust the story, plot and characters. These edits are painful, but painful in the way that a really good, challenging run or an ass-kicker of a yoga class can be. They hurt while you’re doing them, but if all goes well, you feel amazing at the end of them. (If things do not go well, you pull a muscle and get laid up for weeks. I wish I were exaggerating.)

And then there are copy edits. This involves one or more strangers, with whom you will likely never have the chance to develop a real relationship, looking over your manuscript and pointing out the obnoxious little tiny details you missed the first thirty-seven times you read your book.

It basically feels like someone sitting there telling you over and over again:

community-chang-ugh-youre-the-worstTo continue the metaphor, copy edits are painful the way crunches are painful. Every damn time you sit down to do them, they hurt. At the end of the day, you still don’t have abs. And the worst part is that you never really seem to get any better at them.

So it is with some of those little details. There’s that thing with further and farther and how you were so convinced you’d gotten it right this time except, whoops, no, you’re still wrong. Mysterious commas that defy all logic yet still manage to adhere to some tiny exception to a rule. Hyphens added and hyphens removed. Rephrasings to help avoid echoes and clean up sentences that got too wordy.

All of it adds up to a cleaner, more readable manuscript. They’re necessary. You must not skip them. But that doesn’t make them any more fun.

My big problem is that seeing all my foibles messes with my game face. Transitioning from reviewing copy edits to drafting on another project is fraught with peril. It becomes almost impossible for the words to flow because I keep thinking about those damn compound adjectives and trying to remember how the hell they work.

But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize. There are some things I will always screw up. Intellectually, I may learn the difference between who and whom, but in the blur of pouring a story out onto the page, I will revert to my old, tragically grammatically incorrect ways. And that’s okay.

The key thing is to keep writing. To keep making those damn mistakes. To maybe aspire to get a liiiittle bit better at them as time goes on. But to basically accept them and soldier on.

Ruthless sticklers for detail that they are, copy editors are there to have your back. Embrace their changes, and then forget about them. Keep writing your story.

And try to forget that it’s going to be ab day at the gym again tomorrow.

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