Proofreading is terminally dull.
Not only is it dull, but the process manages to instil in me all manner of doubt about whether any of the sentences I have written are actually any good at all.
My mother, who kindly volunteered to proofread my book in parallel on account of her eagle eyes and innate pedanticism (probably not a real word) telephones once a day so that we can amalgamate our corrections onto one manuscript. While I am extremely grateful for her help – she spotted a clanger I had missed which made me howl with embarrassment yesterday – it is an excruciating process which reminds me of when she used to re-read my English essays when I was a not very sweet – in fact mostly surly – sixteen.
“I’m a bit concerned about the phrase ‘clapped eyes on’ in paragraph five on page 35,” she says. “Isn’t that a bit too slangy and colloquial?”
“Er, I don’t think so,” I say, trying not to sound too sulky and defensive, “and the people who have read it already, like the nice bookseller who emailed me on facebook the other day to say she’d read one of those advance copies of the almost-finished-but-not really-copy edited-yet book said that she really liked the conversational tone. So I think it’s a good thing. Probably.”
“Oh, right,” says mother doubtfully. “Well, if you’re sure.”
I’m not sure. I couldn’t be less sure. In fact I no longer know what to think. I remember once having to write “gone away” on an enormous pile of post which had stacked up for some complete stranger at my student digs over the summer holidays. By envelope number forty-three, I stopped and began chewing the end of my Biro. I was suddenly no longer convinced that “gone” was really a word at all, and if it was, could that really be the correct spelling? If you write a word over and over again or think about it for too long, it inevitably starts seeming wrong, I find. I do believe I had to fetch a dictionary and verify the past participle of “to go” before I was able to continue.
All of which is a long-winded way of telling you that this week I am mostly forcing myself to re-read the manuscript very very slowly, taking regular breaks in the interests of sanity preservation, and having not infrequent crises of confidence.