My proofreading jackboots

Current gig, a small but enjoyable one: proofreading again. (I can talk at length about the book once it’s published, but until it is, it’s my basic obligation to keep any comments very general.) I like proofreading, as it appeals to my closet fascist.

This book is a true-life love story, one to which I relate on numerous levels. It begins in small-town Washington, in a time when I was also in school in small-town Washington. It passed through UW, enabling me to offer obsessive nitpicks on places, distances and such. The author and I had some similar youth pastimes, such as Strat-o-Matic sports games. The connections often border on the eerie.

What is eerier: I’m seeing the very intimate details of the histories of people I will likely one day meet in person. It makes me feel a little creepy, which it should not. I’m hired and paid for this, and it is work. It’s not like I set out on my own to compile a dossier of two people’s lives I’ve never met; I just read the dossier provided by one of them, and provided feedback. Even so, I can’t escape feeling like I’ve somehow stalked them. I know much of them and their lives; they of me, in one case a modest amount–in the other, far less. It was above board, with full informed consent, even invitation. I still feel a bit as if I have been nosey. I shouldn’t; it’s unjust to myself. I do anyway.

It makes me marvel at the author’s  guts in publishing the story. I had never before considered that, despite all the autobiographies I’ve read. Be it Churchill, Malcolm X, or a relative unknown, they had the sand to put their lives’ details out there for public examination. I certainly haven’t done the same (and there is no way). This has brought me close and personal with the question. If I feel voyeuristic just working with the author to tape, mud, sand and paint the drywall, how must he feel knowing that my reading is one of the first few of many? I may just be such an intensely private person that this rocks my world more than it would other people. (So naturally, what do I do about that? Why, blog it to share with the world! That’s like worrying about Treasury defaults, thus fleeing to a financial safe haven–Treasuries! D’oh!)

The project has gone beyond simple proofreading, which is fine by me. Someone comes to you and says, “I want to work with you because I think that will make this the best possible book.” Are you going to cruise idly by something you know is incongruent with that goal? I don’t see how anyone can. I can’t. It’s one thing if I’m ordered to: “I’m happy with every word. Just catch the spelling and punctuation, doubled words, missing words, and so on. Otherwise shut up.” I’d comply. However, only a very foolish first-time author would give that direction, and my client is not a fool. As a result, I’ll walk away from the finished job feeling that it’s better for my input, and that’s my real payoff.

One perception my client had, I think, is that I’d spend a lot of time skewering him. I think most people who have never worked with editors or proofreaders have the vision of us as people you argue with, people with whom you’d better have an alligator skin because they’ll cut your work to doll rags, people who wield their eloquence like a hot poker against your psyche. Maybe in some cases that’s how it goes down. I never had an editor treat me that way, not a single time. I had them send back things I didn’t feel they should; I had them ask me to rewrite things; I had them ask me dumb questions; I had them screw up their own recordkeeping and then send me snippy messages asking if I was ever going to turn in any work, when I’d been patiently awaiting assignment. I never had one critique me in a way that was meant to discourage me.  I never even got a rejection letter that was meant to harm. I had some tell me they didn’t like my material, but I’m still waiting for the first literary professional to make a deliberate effort to be a jerk. Fact was, I came to like most of my editors. Literary collaboration–described here as any process where two or more people are actively contributing input to a publishable work–should be as fun as you can make it.

If not, I think someone’s doing it wrong.

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