I’ve written before about copyediting. More specifically, about copyeditors. And more specifically than that about the copyeditor on my first few novels. But that was a long time ago, and after speaking about the process of copyediting on my podcast recently, I’ve had some more thoughts on the topic.
The title of this post is really a misnomer. Or at the very least, misleading. The fact is, there’s nothing I really love about the process of copyediting. It’s a slog. No two ways about it. When you’re revising (at gunpoint, for yours truly), you can convince yourself you’re doing something grand and sweeping and creative, even if most of what you’re doing is patching over your first draft screw-ups.
But with copyediting, you can’t pretend. With copyediting, you are fixing your mistakes. There’s no getting around it. On pretty much every page, you made a mistake, whether it’s dropping a comma (or adding an unnecessary one), using the wrong word in the wrong context, or bollixing up your own continuity due to a dialogue glitch.
Your literary mortality is shoved in your face, and you are forced to realize — to your horror — that without a copyeditor you might have published this!
That’s bad enough. But here are some other reasons why the process of copyediting drives me mad:
“I feel stupid.” You know, there’s nothing quite like being a dude who makes his living writing, who studied English at Yale, who has spent his entire life manipulating the written word…only to be reminded roughly ten thousand times in a manuscript of all the niggling little grammatical rules you break without realizing it. It totally makes you feel like a moron. And, yeah, I know that it’s easy to mis-place commas and improperly reference antecedents when you’re blasting along toward novel-length, but…come on! I’m supposed to be good at this! This is my castle, man, and I’m leaving the drawbridge down and letting syntax invaders into the keep. Makes me feel like an idiot, and no one likes feeling that way.1
“I’m tired of this.” By the time the copyeditor gets his or her hands on the manuscript, I’ve written it, read it a few times, revised it at least once on my own, discussed it with my beta readers, discussed it with my editor, and gone through a revision with my editor (perhaps more than one). At this point, I am psychologically and emotionally done with the story. It’s over. I’ve moved on. I just want the damn thing in your hands so that you can enjoy it. But, oh no, here comes the copyeditor, sniggering at my incorrect usage of the word “anticipate.”2
“I’m so sorry.” I am man susceptible to guilt over pretty much everything. Catholic/Jewish upbringing, dude. It’ll kill ya every time. I am reasonably certain, given my studies in the area, that I could conceivably get away with murder. But I wouldn’t try it. Because if the cops even suspected me and asked me a single question, my guilt would shine through. It’s one thing to know how to dispose of the body and clean up the evidence; it’s another thing entirely to look innocent afterwards. I feel guilty about stuff I didn’t even do, about stuff that isn’t even remotely my fault. So, imagine how I feel when I turn in a manuscript…and get back a document with literally thousands of copyedits in it.3 The guilt gushes forth like that bodega sushi you knew shouldn’t have eaten. It’s my job to write a book, to turn it in as clean as possible. And look at all the work I’ve made my poor copyeditor do. I should probably send a gift basket.
Copyedits are a necessary evil. Copyeditors, on the other hands, are necessary angels.
- If it’s any consolation to authors out there — it isn’t to me, but so little is — my editor confirms that the copyediting process makes her feel like an idiot, too.↩
- Please note: The copyeditor does not actually snigger. The copyeditor actually very politely asks, “Are you sure this is the word you want to use here?” But in my fragile state of mind, I hear sniggering. Oh, yes, I do.↩
- Granted, most of them are “move this comma” or “change towards to toward,” but still.↩