WHY I CAN'T EDIT MYSELF by Ilene Schneider
The other day, I noticed the name of a salon: [something]’s Kutz. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to get a haircut at a place called Klutz?
A while later, I read about the formation of an organization, but I thought the article’s author had written “fornication.”
There are three things going on here. One, I have a very disturbed subconscious. Two, it’s time to go to the optometrist and get my prescription for the reading part of my lenses changed. And, three, we see what we expect to see.
It’s because of the last factor that I am completely unable to edit myself. (It’s also because that same pesky subconscious is convinced that every word I write is perfect and should not be changed or cut even if it is misspelled or unnecessary.)
Each of my books underwent numerous edits, readings, re-readings, re-edits, re-re … the same as all works by all authors do (or should). Inevitably, though, typos and worse still existed in the final printed copies. The nonfiction TALK DIRTY YIDDISH has at least one repeated paragraph. The first edition of CHANUKAH GUILT had several typos and an inaccurate place name. (I’m afraid to read the actual book of the second edition, which went through six edits. During the course of each I discovered more errors.)
Within the first few minutes of his beginning to read UNLEAVENED DEAD (also printed after six edits), my husband asked if a time change was a red herring. It wasn’t. I then noticed a name error on the first page (I was sure I had done a search-and-replace when I changed the character’s name later in the book). An astute reader alerted me to another inadvertent name switch (of a location, not a character) a bit later in the book.
I am a good editor of others’ works, finding typos, inconsistencies, and other errors even (particularly) in books published by the Big Presses. And I have been known to stop reading self-published books that are poorly edited because all the mistakes interfere with the story.
So, if I can find others’ mistakes so easily, why am I blind to my own? As I said before, we see what we expect. I know what I meant to write, how I meant to spell a word, or the name of a character; so those words are what I read when I’m trying to edit my own works. If I know the word is supposed to be “striped,” I won’t notice I typed “stripped.” Or if someone led a class, I don’t realize the word should not be “lead;” after all, the mineral is pronounced the same as the past tense of the verb. (I just misspelled “pronounced” as “prounced” and couldn’t figure out why it was underlined with a broken red line!)
Shouldn’t the publisher’s editor find all those errors? Theoretically, yes. But it is also our job as writers to make sure our manuscripts are as “clean” as possible. When I submit a manuscript, I “know” it is as good as it can be. Then I receive the layout, review it, and find dozens of errors that I never saw before. And neither did the editor, who is not reviewing my manuscript only, but mine plus another dozen or so. After a while, we’re (or I am) on autopilot, skimming rather than reading.
I know some authors read their manuscripts backwards to find typos without being distracted by the plot or the syntax. I’ve tried it. I gave up after a page. It just didn’t work for me.
What techniques work for you? I’m willing to try anything. Except reading backwards.
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She recently retired from her day job to devote herself to writing. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and the award-winning Unleavened Dead; the 3rd, a work-in-progress, is titled Yom Killer. She also wrote the nonfiction Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek.