Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Proofreading Blues

Oh, woe is I!* I’ve been proofing my manuscript and correcting the grammar and punctuation that my editor, Barbara, pointed out to me, plus trying to catch all the tupos I missed the first hundred times I went over the thing.

It’s humiliating. I was an English major in college and an English teacher, to boot. I even taught remedial English to freshmen when I was in graduate school. So I like to think of myself as well-versed in the rules of English grammar and punctuation.
But by damn, either I’ve forgotten what I knew or the rules have changed, because I seem to have made a lot of mistakes in this MS.

First, I am getting worse instead of better at differentiating between “lay” and “lie” and all their permutations. In fact, Barbara noted that I got it wrong nearly every time! She even wrote “Yay!” above the one time I got it right. I told her that at least I’m consistent. Now, how did this happen? I know that people lie down to sleep and that they lay their watches on the beside table. It is tenses other than the present that throw me. I got lost in a miasma of “laids” and “lains”. The odd thing is that I never had that much trouble with it before. All I can suggest is that I’ve suddenly developed a metal block. In any event, no one in this novel now lays or lies either one. Everyone places, puts, reclines, or reposes. Except for that “Yay!” I left that one.

Next, Barbara suggested that I refresh myself on the difference between “may” and “might”. Here’s the deal. When it comes to “may’ and “might”, I become ensnared in the net of my own ethnic dialect. Where I come from, “may” is for asking permission and “might” is synonymous with “perhaps”. However, this is not necessarily correct Standard English. I must remember that.

C. “You use too many commas”, Barbara said. Okay, I admit it. But I have an excuse. I swear to God that punctuation rules have changed since I learned them. (No cracks about runes, hieroglyphs, or cuneiform.) I was taught that in a list of three or more descriptors, there is no comma between the last two if there is an “and” between them. He was tall, dark and handsome. It seems this rule has changed. Knowing this, I apparently went on a rampage and put commas all over the place, whether the sentence needed them or not. Barbara’s comment immediately reminded me of my late aunt, who literally put a comma after every other word she wrote. Perhaps I have inherited some genetic punctuation flaw. Whatever the reason, I’ve become hyper-aware of my commas. I must have removed 500 commas during the re-read. It has occurred to me that I may now have a book full of run-on sentences.

4. Typos. After a while you just don’t see them. You know how the sentence is supposed to read, and that’s what you see whether it is actually there or not. For example, during this last re-read I found a place where I had left the “g” out of the word “dog”. The do began to bark. I wrote that sentence three months ago and have read over it dozens of times. But I didn’t see that missing “g”. Neither did my husband Don. Neither did Barbara. We all knew what it was supposed to be and that’s what we saw.
I think there may be a life lesson, here.
*You’ll recognize this as the title of Patricia T. O’Conner’s book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English. The kicker here is that “woe is I” is the grammatically correct construction, not “woe is me.”


Mary said...

I thought it was just me. I hope it gets better for both of us now that placed it on the table for all to see.

Giggles and Guns

Vicki Delany said...

He was tall, dark, and handome is called a serial comma. That it's also called Rick Blechta is irrelevant here. The use of the serial comma is the subject of many bitter battles in the intense world of punctuation. When I submitted my first MS to Poisoned Pen, I was informed by Barbara that WE use serial commas. Perhas you didn't get the memo, Donis.

John said...

I assume that the typos in your blog entry are deliberate.
beside table instead of bedside table
tupo instead of typo
metal block instead of mental block
Since you have "First", "Next", "C", and "4" I am safe in my assumption...

Rick Blechta said...

I am NOT "handome", Vicki, and I will never put up with being called that -- even by you!

And I personally loathe serial commas. Cereal commas, on the other hand, are very nice with a sliced banana and some cold milk.

Donis Casey said...

John, you have editorial hawk eyes. Vicki, I did get the memo, but the mind rebels and the fingers run amok. Mary, I'll bet money that Shakespeare's editor caught all sorts of mistakes. Why, he couldn't even spell his own name the same way twice!
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a craving for some cereal.

peter_may said...

You guys think you've got it hard? Try writing for an American publisher having been brought up reading and writing a Scots version of British English. It's bad enough writing for a London publisher who doesn't recognise half of the (Scots) words I use (I never realised they were), but you guys spell everything different and have different rules of grammar - "that" versus "which", active and inactive verbs, "may" versus "might" ("may" IS asking permission BTW). But, ignominy of ignominy, last week my new British publisher introduced me to their house spelling of words with an "ise" ending. The Oxford English dictionary, they said, now promotes use of the (American) "ize" ending as in "realize" (notice my stubborn resistance to that above). My dad, who wrote the definite book on English grammar, must be turning in his grave.

Donis Casey said...

Peter, your post reminded me of an occasion when I was complaining about being short and having to hem every pair of slacks I buy. My tall friend replied that she can never find any slacks long enough and at least there is something I can do to fix the length problem. I vowed never to complain again.

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