Saturday, September 29, 2012

Paper Cuts

I must admit that in addition to my severe case of PSS (Premature Submission Syndrome) I also suffer from Teflonitis.  This latter disability prevents me from seeing the less than obvious mistakes in my on-screen drafts. The obvious are easy, grammar and spell-checking take care of the simple mistakes, I am able to catch a few misspellings the checker misses, remove a bit of unnecessary alliteration, correct punctuation errors (mostly commas that breed like flies), random repetitions that pop up seemingly independent of my finger's fumbling strokes, and glaring grammatical errors.  Successive edits are successful in removing the last of these to produce, at long last, a perfectly written final draft.

Or so I usually think.

So what is the problem?  Well, after I've reviewed and edited/corrected a passage seven or eighteen times, when I know every word by heart, when I've sweated blood to perfect each deliciously wrought sentence, I begin to see an ideal, a perfect vision that in no way resembles the reality before my eyes:  I see what I want to see as my eyes slide unhindered across the passages.  It is as if the words were teflon, impervious to change.

I've discovered too many submissions soiled  by stupid mistakes. There have been so many that I've become wary of relying solely on what I see on the screen.  Sometimes I cast the draft in a different format or convert it to ebook format just so it can be read differently.  Sadly, this helps only occasionally - how many times can you reread the same words?  The "read aloud" features on most computers can help, but that is more to do with pacing than achieving the correct presentation.

What does work for me is printing what I thought was the final, final draft onto paper and then sitting down with red pen and painfully reading every syllable of text, editing where necessary, and writing marginal notes regarding necessary rearrangements.  Sometimes I jumble the pages so I can read the words without getting caught  up in the progression of the story.  In nearly every instance I've done this and regardless of how absolutely PERFECT I thought the draft had looked on the screen, I invariably find stupid errors on every page.  Usually, the result is that I end up with my printed draft awash in a red tide that represents the final, final, God-damn-it final draft.

Editing a printed draft is slow, painful and humbling, but a necessary experience.


  1. Bud, I don't print (being paperless, of course), but I've had similar problems and one thing that has worked for me is changing the way the story looks on the (virtual) page. I'll send a story draft to my Kindle, and then make the font really big and read it that way. Something about seeing the words as typographical giants gets me out of my normal mindset and makes it easier for me to identify some of those less-than-obvious mistakes.

  2. For me, the only thing that really works to catch those nagging errors is to read it aloud. The mouth will catch things that the mind will never notice.

  3. Yes to both comments. What is fascinating to me is the difference in "feel" when you read in courier draft from seeing it as a published page. Almost a different story.


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