Sunday, August 11, 2013

Boy do I feel dumb

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This week, I've been working on copyedits for GRADUATION DAY, the third book in The Testing Trilogy.  Copyedits are always an interesting time in the production of a novel.  The book has been revised and revised and revised again.  My editor, agent and I finally believe the book is in great shape. Then the book goes off to the shadowy figure known as the copyeditor to make sure all commas are in the right place and all the spellings in book 3 actually match the two that came before.  A great copyeditor also checks for overused words and makes suggestions about any repetitive phrases that could be eliminated.

So it is with a great deal of joy and angst that I approached opening the package with the copyedited manuscript. Joy because the book is getting close to being spiffed and polished and ready for readers and anguish because the pages will be filled with lots and lots of notes and tons of little tweaks that make me didn't I think of that in the first place?

Copyedits (when done by an amazing copy editor, of which I have been blessed with) make me feel dumb.  Not the comma part, because the one thing I have learned in this writing process is that every publishing house seems to have a different idea of where commas should actually go.  So the added or removed punctuation doesn't phase me.  But the rest....


All the notes and the suggestions and the polite requests for changes make me grateful that I have a copyeditor.  It also makes me feel stupid.  Very, very stupid. Like I failed ever grammar class that I'd taken in high school.

The funny thing is, I know that's not the case.  In fact, I know that often I have far less notes on these pages than I'm expecting.  But it is the nature of a writer to think that we should be able to do everything without help.  That we should be perfect.  That we shouldn't need an editor or a copyeditor or anyone else who reads the story throughout production.  Because the story is ours.  As the storyteller -we should be able to make the story fabulous all by ourselves.

And that's wrong.  Yes, the story is ours, but the best thing about writing a story is watching the process of the story being turned into a book.  And not just any book...the best book it can possibly be.  And that's what all those amazing people helping shape the story are for.  My copyeditor makes me feel dumb and incredibly grateful to have her working on my book.  I mean...the book is SO much better for her.  And my editor...well, let's just say I am thanking my lucky stars I get to work with her because she is brilliant.  Here's hoping she liked my work enough in this trilogy to work with me in the future because I'm not sure if my work could ever be as strong without her.

Writers feel dumb a lot.  We feel stupid when we don't know what comes next in the story.  We feel like complete idiots when we're in the middle of writing a book and we are certain it is the worst book ever.  We think we're not so bright when we read the manuscript and think the story might not be as bad as we originally thought.  We bang our heads against walls when we get editorial notes that point out glaring errors that we swear we should have spotted.  And we even feel stupid when the book hits shelves and readers pick it up because we're certain someone is going to finally understand how much we don't know and that we're total frauds.

But you know what?  Despite that, I feel like the smartest person in the world for being in this business.  Why?  Because I get to work with people who make my work look sharper, more focused and just plain better than it was before.  How cool is that?

So, as I finish these last couple pages marked with green pencil and lovely notes from my wonderful copyeditor, I am incredibly thankful that I have such an amazing production team helping me shape this book.  Because the dumber I feel, the luckier I know I am.


Jay Stringer said...

My first copy edit was a trauma for me at first. I'd been carrying OLD GOLD around for a long time, and having someone else come in and ask me to change bits and to swap out words, that was stressful.

Then I got over it and the book got better.

RUNAWAY TOWN and (Book 3) have also gotten a lot better as a result of the edit. I like having the same editor through a series, so that we can get used to each others style and develop a feel for what works.

Dana King said...

This is still done with pencil on paper? Wouldn't it be a lot quicker and easier for everyone to use Track Changes and Comments?

Al Tucher said...

"Writers feel dumb a lot."

Thank you. I'm not the only one.