Tuesday, January 28, 2014

You Are Going to Miss Something

I was talking with a friend yesterday about an opportunity she had to do some content editing. She's new (but will be excellent, I have no doubt), and was struggling with what to charge. Of the many considerations and issues she weighed, one concern that came up was charging money for a service like this and then missing something during the work.

A typo. A plot hole. An improper word usage. A pacing issue. There are all things that can be missed.

And here's what I told her, which I wish someone had told me way back when but I had to figure out with a lot of trial and error: you are going to miss something.

Just get that out of the way immediately.

Whether you're writing, or you're beta reading, or you're editing. Whether it's paid work or a favor. Whether you're the first set of eyes to go over something or the fifteenth.

You are going to miss something. You are going to make a mistake.

I know this because I read. I've been a reader since I was a toddler and able to hold a book.

And I have never, in my life (or at least recollection), read a single book without some kind of error in it. Whether it's something small that changes the sentence (recently I saw "didn't" when it should've just been "did"), or a grammar thing ("lay" when it should be "lie"), or a style thing ("my Mom" when it should've been "my mom"), or a chunk of text that was accidentally copied and pasted twice, or factual error, or something that contradicted something else (like a character wearing one shirt removing it twice in one scene).

No, not self-published books, either (let's not even touch those ones for the moment). Books with large publishers--in some cases, by NYT bestselling authors. And no, I'm not bringing this up to support the utter bullshit "editors don't edit anymore" cry that idiots spout.

I have a crystal-clear memory of when I was eight years old, on a trip to Santo Domingo, sitting at the resort poolside with a book in hand. It was one of the Nancy Drew Files. And suddenly there was a girl named Beth in the scene.


I went back a few pages, scanned. No Beth. Who the hell was Beth? And then I realized it was meant to be Bess. Nancy's friend. Two letters off.

This happened well over twenty years ago. So my point is that this is not a new occurrence.

I know a lot of writers and editors. I know how hard people work. All of the examples above? The Nancy Drew book from the 80s? People worked their asses off on those books. Multiple pairs of eyes went over them. Extremely skilled people, who are damn good at their jobs, combed those books thoroughly. I have no doubt many, many errors were caught.

Something always gets missed.

As an editor, I've been handed books that went through three to four beta readers, multiple rewrites, and I still found timeline confusion and logic holes. And even then, after publication, I've been notified of yet another error I missed, and felt like a complete idiot over it.

As a writer, I spend hundreds and hundreds of hours on my books. I reread them dozens of times, poring over all 100K-odd words of them. Other people go over comb them for errors. And yet someone, even years later, inevitably finds a typo (and deigns to notify me of this fact with implications I'm a moron for not seeing it).

None of this is meant to excuse deliberately sloppy work. In fact, this post isn't even directed at those sorts of people--as far as I'm concerned, they are still sitting in the corner without dinner and I will speak to them later when I think they've learned their lesson. No, I'm talking to those of you who try so goddamn hard to be perfect and beat yourself up later when you realized something slipped through. Or those of you who get so paralyzed by the fear of missing something that you don't get started.

You are going to miss something.

This doesn't mean you don't try to be perfect. It's not an excuse to get lazy. It's not a reason to stop striving for improvement.

But it means accept that even busting your ass, you're going to fuck something up somewhere along the line. It's just going to happen. It is like death and taxes that way. The most skilled people with extreme attention to detail and years of training and experience will still do it. We call it "human error" because we're humans: people with eyes that get blind to text and brains that get tired and workdays that get interrupted and memories that forget.

You are going to miss something.

You accept this, strive to do your best, and if you find out you made a mistake, take note of it and try better next time. Beating yourself up after the fact or being too paralyzed to start in the first place (both of which have happened to me) isn't going to Fix All the Errors, and even if it did...

One day in the future, you will still miss something else. Accept that now and save yourself the stress, because your energy is better spent on doing the work rather than worrying about the work.

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