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If Not Perfection, What?

All writing can be improved

In 1989, Hazelden published a small book of mine. It sold fairly well, but about six years ago they dropped it and returned the rights to me. I've decided to re-issue it on my own, first as an ebook and then, maybe as a self-published paperback.

The computer disks containing the original manuscript are long gone, and after several unsuccessful attempts to scan the pages, I've decided to go ahead and, slowly, just retype the whole thing.

Oh my! Remember, this is a book that was professionally edited by a reputable publisher. In theory I could just duplicate it, but there are sentences that are simply awful.

Editors Don't Catch Every Mistake a Writer Makes

Take these two, for instance:

  • But sometimes the definition of harm can be quite fuzzy
  • I'm talking about the person who hands out advice that isn't based in either his or her own personal experience in recovery or what the Big Book or other Twelve Step literature say.

Yuck! The first is ok, but the second? And it got by a professional editor! Apparently I missed it too when I proofed the galleys. Or maybe I really have learned some things in the interim. Here's how that second sentence is currently recast:

  • I'm talking about people who hand out advice that isn't based on their own experience.

Much better. I've not only shortened it and retained the original meaning, I've also eliminated the awkward his or her construction by using a plural reference instead of a singular one. Actually, the meaning of the sentence is much clearer in its new incarnation, because it's much simpler to read and understand.

In the original, the reference to 'the Big Book or other Twelve Step literature' really doesn't fit. I was probably trying to suggest that another way to give advice would be to direct someone to those sources, but it isn't needed because I make that clear later on.

As much as I sometimes hate to admit it, there probably isn't a piece of my published writing that couldn't be improved. Fortunately, I'm not alone. In truth, there probably isn't a piece of published writing in the world that couldn't be improved, at least a little bit.

Writing and Editing is NOT an Exact Science

Writing and editing simply are anything but an exact science. Neither are like arithmetic, where the only answer (unless you're a science fiction writer) to 2+2 is 4. There is no such thing as objective perfection.

So how are we to judge our own writing? We obviously want our writing to be the best it can be. On the other hand, we don't want to get so obsessive that we're never finished with a piece, for that would mean we never move on to the next one.

I have no idea if I actually wrote the sentence I now find so awkward or if it actually developed out of the editing. Most likely it was some combination of the two. What I do know is that I was doing my best at the time and so was the editor. I hadn't discovered, for example, how helpful it is to read my work out loud so my ear can pick up awkwardness that my eye misses. Nor was I confident enough in my own abilities then to question an editor's change.

When I wrote my most recent book, (Powerfully Recovered! which I self published) I not only read every word out loud, I actually taped myself reading and listened, a section at a time.

Then I submitted it to three different editors I trust. Each one picked up different things, some of which I accepted and some of which I didn't. I wasn't really surprised when, a few month's after it came out, I received several emails pointing out typos none of us spotted. In fact, I have been delightfully surprised there haven't been more.

When I prepare the book for its third edition and I'm sure I will find changes I need to make in spite of all the care went into the second edition. When and if it moves into a fourth edition, there will still be things we missed! It's the nature of the beast.

So do the very best you can do today, knowing it won't be perfect. And move on when it's time.

Write well, and often!



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Email Anne: Anne@AboutFreelanceWriting.com

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