Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hyde on Self-Editing

Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward, offers five bits of advice on self-editing over at Anne R. Allen's blog. Excerpt:
Years ago I was rereading a short story of mine, which contained the following line:

"In the morning she photographed Vincent making coffee in his boxer shorts."

Now, I had already read that line dozens of times. And nothing had struck me as out of place. But on that last reading, something broke through. It was … laughter. I began to laugh uncontrollably. Real hurt-your-ribs kind of stuff. And I said, out loud (when able), "Why doesn't Vincent just use a paper filter like everybody else?"

"In the morning she photographed Vincent in his boxer shorts, making coffee."

That's what I had meant to say.

Unfortunately, you are the author. And you know what you meant to say. Ergo, you are the least qualified person on the planet to judge whether you are saying what you meant to say.

I have no magic bullet to remedy this special form of blindness. If I did, I'd be a rich author, indeed. But here are a few helpful hints.
Read the whole thing. Back when I worked for The Magazine, my editor published an article in which he somehow managed to spell an individual's name two different ways within as many paragraphs. Not as funny as it sounds, though, considering the fact that all the rest of the staff, myself included, managed to miss the gaffe during the proofing process. When the stacks of mags hit our desks and Gaiman's Law of New Publications came into play (if there's a typo in the text, it will immediately be the first thing you turn to), no one was particularly pleased. Editorial blindness hurts.

(Picture: CC 2007 by


Jim Murdoch said...

No matter how many times I go though a text I can never catch all of these. I start out with good intentions but I can never escape the fact I know what I mean. It doesn't matter what I've written I know what I mean. The words simply remind me what I mean. They jog my memory - I don't actually read them.

One good suggestion I heard was edit the book backwards so you don't get caught up in the actual story and you're just looking at a block of text. I would probably suggest taking that one step further and edit the pages in a random order.

But nothing beats an objective reader looking at the thing fresh for the very first time.

Loren Eaton said...

But nothing beats an objective reader looking at the thing fresh for the very first time.

Absolutely. Honestly, the only way I can come close to objectively editing my own stuff is to let it lie fallow for a month or two. That way I lose some of my familiarity with it. But, yeah, it's hard.

RC said...

This is so true & yet I hate hate hate hate self-editing.

I miss my errors all the time.

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, it's one of those "really hard but oh-so-important" things, isn't it?