Proof-reading (3/5/08)

It amazes me how many mistakes the first draft of a book can carry. Proof-reading a first draft is humbling. Yes, I’ve abused apostrophes, yes I’ve had ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’. I’ve forgotten words that are necessary to make a proper sentence and then wondered what on earth it was supposed to mean in the first place. I’ve even managed to adopt two alternate spellings for the name of a major character. Twice.

This sort of lackadaisical carelessness leads to the inevitable necessity of the proof-reading ones own work. Thankfully that’s in the past for now. As of today, the first ‘official’ draft of The Adamantine Palace is on its way to my editor, and I’m already busy writing a whole new set of stupid mistakes for King of the Crags, which at last has a chapter one that’s going to stick.

So, thank F**K that’s over. I hate proof-reading, which probably makes me exactly like almost every other author (I’ve yet to hear of an author saying ‘you know what, absolutely the best bit is going back after that first draft and pulling out all the typos. That’s where the real kick is’). It goes something like this…

It starts like a long holiday to somewhere exotic might start. You get an idea that you might like to go somewhere. You have a look at the travel guides and figure out the places you want to go (this becomes The Plot). If you’re me, after half an hour, you’ve figured out the essential stops, the must-visit monuments and so forth and you’re already booking tickets on the next flight to Mongolia, on the assumption that everything else will somehow fall into place. (Others may be more meticulous in their plans. When it comes to holidays to Mongolia, I’m not the man to plan). Then there’s the actual holiday itself. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to visit all the places you planned and plenty that you didn’t, and the whole experience will be that much richer for all the little adventures you didn’t expect, all the people and places that weren’t in the guidebook. Hurrah!

If you’re inclined, you can even relive the experience. For most people, this means remembering all the cool stuff, dwelling on the highlights, lingering on the bits that made your skin tingle with excitement and awe. The proof-reader, though, has a slightly different job. The proof-reader is the little critic, the nit-picker, the person whose job it is to winkle out every little defect. The proof-reader’s narration of a holiday goes like this:

“Right. First picture. That’s the airport carpark. In the distance. What I’m really drawing attention to is the queue, because that was really far too long. And look at the state of the pay-machines. Manky as shit. Now then, second picture. The airport lounge. Bear with me, because there’s quite a bit going wrong here…” There isn’t even much of a pay-off. “Right. This is the road out to the Most Fantastic Place In The World. It needs some work. Here and here. Pot-holes, see. Minibus. Here’s a picture of the broken air-conditioner. Eventually we got there. Yeah. The Most Fantastic Place In the World. Spent a week there. Killer. Recommend it. Didn’t get any pictures though, but here are those potholes on the road again, on the way back this time. See how they’re already worse than on the way out.”

Proof-reading sucks. Proof-reading deliberately and wilfully bypasses all the wonder and all the magic. Proof-reading requires no creativity of imagination, what it requires is a fierce concentration and a slavish attention to detail. Proof-reading is joyless. I hate it.

Naturally, with these thoughts in my head, the world of software sprang to mind. According to NASA: “One industry guideline is to expect approximately 7 errors per 1000 Source Lines of Code (SLOC). This estimate is helpful in an overall estimate of the number of errors…” I think I found about 3000 errors in 110000 words (i.e. about 20000 Source Lines of Prose (SLOP) as I propose to call them). This leads, clearly and umambiguously, to the following conclusions:
- NASA will not be employing me to write novels
- No wonder my software never compiles

I should point out, I suppose, that I don’t meant to denigrate the job of the proof-reader. We all have our inner proof-reader, and those who have dedicated their lives to exercising theirs so that the rest of us don’t have to deserve nothing but praise. These are probably the people who, in desperate counter-balance to their day-jobs, are the most electric people in town.

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