A Novelist’s Journey, Episode 6: Of Typos and Grammar Gremlins

red pencil

Come on, see how brave you are.

Open yourself up to edits. Really; open yourself up. Split your writer’s self wide open and wait…for the inevitable wave of corrections you are about to receive. Some kindly, some not so lovingly, some maybe with annoyance and impatience.

This is me, talking to myself, as I await the changes on my got-it-as-far-as-I-can-go-alone manuscript.

Usually, I’m pretty typo averse. Nobody’s perfect, but I strain to be, with multiple re-readings and a healthy dose of two a.m. anxiety. With grammar, I think I’m pretty darn on the mark as well.

But my mistakes (writer: know thyself) are the stupidest of the stupid. I omit words. Small words (usually prepositions) that get lost in my brain as I cut, paste and fling phrases all over the page, always deconstructing and reconstructing.

Several years ago when I still freelanced for my bread and butter, I was asked by the editor of a community newspaper if I would write a column. I was thrilled and of course said yes.

The newspaper, which had a respectable circulation (this was before print was in jeopardy), regularly featured multiple errors and writing gaffes in the following order: proper nouns were misspelled the most, then came the clumsy writing (huge parenthetical phrases, even more twisted and meandering than my own). Lastly, and this is not a mistake so much as poor writing, the flow and structure failed to address what somebody in the newsroom must have known about – but ignored – which is that the most burning questions that would torture readers when they read the articles would remain unanswered.

And today, having just submitted my beloved manuscript to my publisher and through her, my editor, I await the red pencil of doom.

At the moment, I wait with excitement, because something cocky inside my brain insists the story is superlative and everyone will fall in love with it.

When reality hits, though, the picture won’t be so pretty. I’m sure some mornings will find me dragging butt into work with a long (exhausted) face, having barely survived another onslaught of “Debbie, WTF were you thinking when you wrote this!”

They tell you to “kill your babies,” meaning, get rid of the verbiage you think is perfect because if you are so attached to it, there must be something wrong with it, and it has to be excised from your flawed manuscript. Message being, you need to start writing like a grownup.

My babies and my gremlins, I love them all.

But I’m a-ready.   

Bring on the cruel red hatchet.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017


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