Saturday, February 6, 2010
The next step in the publication of my next book -- the second, updated edition of What's That Pig Outdoors? A Memoir of Deafness -- begins Monday, when a UPS package arrives from the University of Illinois Press.
It'll contain page proofs.
This is going to be a little difficult. Of course I won't be able to tinker with the sentences in the bulk of the original book -- those are engraved in stone -- but the new material in the Epilogue will be horribly tempting.
Seeing one's words in "type" for the first time sets one to wanting to rip apart infelicitous sentences and rewrite them completely. When I was a book review editor I was patient with writers who just couldn't let go of their stuff but kept calling (or emailing, rather) to recast a phrase, change a word, even replace an entire paragraph.
Writers like that care deeply about their prose and want only the finest work they are capable of to be printed. They tend to be both the best reporters and the best stylists. I cherished these writers (and despaired of the lazy types who subscribed to "good enough for government work"), and tried to accommodate them.
That is, until their words had been arranged on the page. Once that happens, changing stuff is a royal pain in the ass for an editor. Columns suddenly grow too long or shrink too short. Tucks need to be taken (or added) to make things fit once again.
"Too late, pal," I'd often have to say when a writer called to change something after the fact. Of course, if the alterations corrected terrible errors, I'd grudgingly make the fix. But not for mere felicity of phrasing.
I promised my editor at the U of I Press that I wouldn't do any tweaking. "I trust you, Henry," he said, thereby nailing my feet to the moral floor.
But oh, it's going to be hard.