Category Archives: Reflections

Errors and editing

mistakesThank you Neil Gaiman!

I have been silent recently; silent both in blogging, and writing, and around the house. I have been preoccupied. And horror-struck. And mortified at something I read.

Mistakes; typos; grammatical inconsistencies – all horrors for an English teacher to witness. How can something go through many, many readings, editings, online grammar-checkers, and still have so many errors? It should not be possible, one would think; or perhaps you are ahead of me and are already nodding your head muttering ‘self-published authors’.

Mea culpa. The shock, horror and mortification does stem from a self-published novel: mine. My first, published in 2013, which I had no notion of anyone other than me seeing. Once I realized that people were reading it, I hurriedly raced through it again and caught what I thought were the only remaining errors, and re-published it with a sigh of relief, my pride intact. Hooray for online publishing! For believe me, I had produced the best novel I could at that time; I had read it myself at least ten times, and had farmed it out to several others for comments and suggestions. I had done what I could afford to do with a novel that no one was going to read.

Imagine my horror, then, when casually flipping pages, admiring my debut work, my eye lit upon ‘positioned himself bedside his wife’. ‘Bedside?’

How could I and everyone else have missed that obvious, glaring error? Desperately, I turned more pages and with sinking heart noticed other grammatical choices that I didn’t like; excess verbiage; inconsistencies in capitalising certain words etc. etc. Only one reviewer had mentioned an error – that of reducing the rank of one of the characters towards the end of the novel – but several had mentioned that it was surprisingly well-written for the type of genre. Hah!

None of the positive reviews mattered anymore as much as the now-glaring errors I was sure permeated the entire novel. There was only one thing to do: remove it from the e-bookstores, re-edit it as closely as possible, and regret my inability to gather all of those sold copies back in with my humble apologies. All of this had to be done in order to be able to show my face again, figuratively, as it were.

Thus the reason for my extended silence. Months of excruciatingly boring revisions; changing a comma, a capital, checking each and every ‘apprise’ and ‘appraise’, and of course, immediately removing the horrendous ‘d’ to ensure that he was now ‘beside’ his wife. An entirely different meaning.

Of course errors are not  the domain only of self-published authors, as the reporter interviewing the chief editor of the Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries gleefully pointed out after the editor had confidently announced he had read the novel at least 15 times; an error had been found! One wonders how many long days and nights it took that reporter and his team to find it. And the celebrations when they did.

But now my editing glasses are firmly in place, I find errors are everywhere, even in traditionally-published works. I have found several already in a classic I am reading, and many, many egregious ones in a modern novel which has had all the benefits of editorial input, computers, and corrections. There were so many that I began dog-earing the offending pages.

So perhaps I should not beat myself up as much as I have, embarrassing as the experience has been. I must put it into perspective. We are all human; we tend to read what should be there even when it isn’t, glossing over many errors with the greatest of ease as we, hopefully, concentrate more on the story, not the mechanics.

There we are, then. A salutary lesson in humility. What we think is the best we can do turns out to be only the best we can do at that moment. However, I will avoid opening my subsequent novels for fear of the terrors they inevitably contain; perhaps I will be strong enough for that lesson in another year or so.

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Filed under editing, General Thoughts, learning through literature, Life lessons, Reflections, Writing Progress, writing style

When you rip out the roots

pot-bound-and-dead

Gardeners know that when dividing a plant they have to be careful and quick. They must either gently tease out the roots or administer a quick chop with a sharp blade before immediately re-potting the two halves in a nurturing environment to avoid transplant shock.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante deals with a division that is neither quick nor gentle. It is a quick read, thank goodness, because the subject matter is disturbing, none of the characters is likeable, and the density of the prose often cloying; but it is not a pleasant nor enjoyable read.

The main character, Olga, suffers a breakdown after her husband leaves her for a younger woman – not an unusual premise; however, her suffering escalates until she can no longer manage her life nor her children’s lives. She is a plant in shock, descending into a toxic hell of self-abasement, obscenity, vicious anger, and overwhelming dysfunction in all areas of her life, roots exposed and withering. No plant can possibly survive in such conditions.

This in itself is difficult to observe without eventually wanting to reach in and at least remove her children from her harmful behavior, but the minute self-observances of her deteriorating abilities, both physical and mental, are truly disturbing and give an insight into how desperate and fragile a person can become when a partner leaves.

At one point, Olga questions how much her husband took of her when he left; all those years of support and love and selflessness in order to help him in his life – another question surely asked by many separated persons – and wonders if this is why she is unable to orient herself to her new situation; that she is an incomplete person because of what he has taken with him as he ripped his roots from hers.

Everything is intertwined down there in their root-ball, everything shared, and when he decides to uproot himself, he not only uproots himself from the ground holding everything stable, but also forcibly rips his roots away from hers. Unless the weaker plant is quickly replanted and nurtured, it will shrivel up and eventually die.

And this is what we suffer through while reading this novel in all its nakedness and obscenity: a plant left with its roots exposed, desperately trying to replant itself before shriveling up and dying. Finding that new pot can be a long process.

But this is not a new story. After all, Edith Wharton has covered this scenario – in a less confrontational manner, to be sure – but with the same message: partners should not rely entirely upon each other, they must develop their own growing plots separately. The plots can be close to each other and over time some roots may become intertwined, but not all. They must be able to support themselves, they must consider carefully just how much they are willing to give up in the name of marital harmony, and they must develop a strong sense of self.

Only then can one plant be uprooted and divided without destroying the other.

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Filed under Book review, General Thoughts, learning through literature, Life as we know it, Life lessons, marriage, Reflections, relationships