The Excruciating Process of Not Editing

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.
– H.G. Wells

And that goes double when it’s your copy and you can’t change it.

As some of you may have kenned, I am in the process of converting my old novels, beginning with A Death of Honor, into ebook format for the Kindle and other similar devices. To that end, I have cut apart an old copy of the book purchased for that specific purpose and run the pages through a scanner, converting them into HTML, which is the basis of code for some of the major e-readers.

What has happened is that the OCR software made its best guess as to what to do, and I’m going through and cleaning up the results. I’m doing a lot with search and replace, but the end result has been that I’m going through the book at such a rate that I’m almost reading it again.

Not to mention that, when I do get everything in order, I’ve got to proof it on my Kindle.

It’s an excruciating process. Here’s why:

Benjamin Disreli said, “When I want to read a good book, I write one.” Well, that’s not me. I don’t have Disraeli’s ego, and I certainly don’t have a tolerance for my own writing. Once upon a time, my editor sent me two of the first hot-off-the-press copies of Honor. I gave one to my wife and I took one, and we both sat down to read it. And it was fine.

Then, a novel and a half later, I decided to read it again. And to borrow a line from Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. I wrote this off to the fact that I was now 1 1/2 novels more experienced as a writer and could see the many mistakes I made in the first. So when The Company Man came out, I picked up my so-fresh-you-could-still-smell-the-sweetness-of-the-ink copy — and being another two novels down the road, I couldn’t even get through the first section.

That has happened now with every one of my novels. It’s like there’s an internal switch in my brain. I can deal with the book an infinite number of times in the production process, but once the published copy comes out, I am filled with the urge to do something to it that involves a ziplock bag, a .45 semiauto, and a shovel.1

But that’s a good thing, I guess, because it doesn’t let me dwell on the past for one, and it tells me I’m getting better as a writer. When I open those old books up, I see mistakes on every page I wish I could go back and fix. But I can’t. But I can strive to not do them in the next one.

Which is what makes the task of getting Honor and my other novels Kindleized so excruciatingly painful. As I scroll down the screen looking for stray bits of code, my brain is desperately crying out to grab the red pen:2 “Oops, there’s another show not tell. Move on, you’re not allowed to fix that. Good heavens that’s clunky. Suppose anyone will notice if I fix one thing, just this once? Whoa, there’s another one just like it. Two fixes? Three? Oh, and there’s another show not tell…”

I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like trying to read this beast on my Kindle. And then doing it five more times (no, you didn’t miscount – Ferman’s Devils and Boddekker’s Demons will be released in a “restored” single volume edition).

At one time, many foolish years ago, I thought it would be interesting to do a scratch rewrite of A Death of Honor, to be published on the 25th anniversary of the original’s release. My plan was to read the book to regain a sense of the plot, then toss it aside and write the book completely over again, replotting and rewiring as I went, with no further reference back to the original material.

Guess what? The 25th anniversary of Honor is in 2012. Before I start wishing that that whole Mayan calendar thing were true just so I could avoid reading it yet again, I can tell you unhesitatingly that I’m not going to do it. The whole conceit centered on my being a Famous Bestselling Author by then, and even if I was, my wife probably wouldn’t stand for it, claiming that it was one of those self-indulgent things that writers do when they start feeling too pleased with themselves. Besides, I’m behind schedule on other great stories I want to tell you.

Meantime, I have to redouble my efforts to go to heaven because right now I’m getting a close-up glimpse of what my own personal hell would be.3 I also need to be a good boy when it comes to writing, so I can bring you more stories without the ghastly mistakes I made in those earlier books. And I can guarantee you that …and that’s the end of the news is going to be a real corker. At least, until I get the first printing of it in my hands.

  1. The funny thing is, I am still perfectly capable of talking to people about the books for the purposes of getting them to make a purchase.
  2. I know, I know, editing is traditionally done with a blue pencil. I use a red pen. Sue me.
  3. It also involves Yanni CD’s, but that’s a story for another day.
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