Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Perils of Editing

Last night at 2:30 a.m., I completed my novel (applause please). However, as I now face the ever demanding revision process, I find the challenge daunting. For one, my revisions come in a number of forms – some on paper, others on computer, and yet more simply rattle around in my brain. I hesitate to tell people it’s “finished”, when what I really mean is – it’s all on paper (the first writing hurdle, as I tend to skip around and leave places blank for later completion), and has gone through not one, but TWO rounds of editing.

And yet – it STILL needs work.

However, a recent debate with my friends over the value of James Joyce’s Ulysses got me thinking. Its first, and some believe most accurate, publication contains over 2,0000 errors. In fact, when published by Shakespeare and Company in 1922, Sylvia Beach added an insert that read: “The publisher asks the reader's indulgence for typographical errors unavoidable in the exceptional circumstances.

Many question how Joyce could relinquish his novel with such blaringly obvious mistakes. To which I respond, they’re easier than one might imagine to overlook. For one, Joyce had multiple copies of his manuscript, and altered editing between them for no discernable reason. Furthermore, a good portion of the novel was handwritten as corrections on the original proofs, something I have a habit of doing myself. And more, Joyce rushed the editing process in order to complete it for publication on his fortieth birthday. All of these factors lead to the excess of mistakes in the finalized draft, which challenges editors even today.

But I think the truth is, a novel is never really finished. You could spend years trying to make it perfect, and still find mistakes and places you want to add to, subtract from, or cut out all together. So for now, I take comfort in the knowledge that greater authors than I make editing errors and pronounce my manuscript – COMPLETE!


  1. I think you fail to mention the possibility that James Joyce simply vomited a bunch of words onto some paper and turned it in because he knew critics would fawn over it and read into it whatever they wanted. Therefore, any typographical errors would be pretty irrelevant since even the errors would add deeper meaning or importance to things that really had no deeper meaning or importance.

  2. 1. You did NOT just write that on my blog!
    2. Even if that were the case (which it's NOT since, hello, he spent seven years writing it), wouldn't that in essence make him a genius - playing the critics that way?

  3. I am willing to admit that James Joyce was an intelligent person. He might even be one of the best authors. However, if I were to write a dictionary, and needed to put a picture under the definition of overrated, I would have to choose between him and Brett Favre.

    I will admit that I wish I had the ability to go stream of consciousness on a computer and have it become the "greatest book of all time".

  4. *Applause, applause!!*

    Congrats, girly! And I totally agree, though... a book is NEVER perfect. Someday when we're BOTH published writers, we'll sit down over lunch and cringe at all the mistakes that even our professional editors missed ( :