petite anglaise

October 2, 2007


Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:55 am

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.


  1. When thinking, or daydreaming, don’t miss the right end of the Biro …

    Comment by Saluki — October 2, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  2. “pedantry”?

    Comment by Moses — October 2, 2007 @ 10:30 am

  3. It reminds me of the day when I forgot how to spell THE! Hmm… T-H-E – what the?! I’m not certain how this could have happened, especially since English IS my first language! ;-) Good luck with the proof-reading!!!

    xox Girl and the City

    Comment by Girl and the City — October 2, 2007 @ 10:50 am

  4. Rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish ………. you’re right!

    Comment by Daddypapersurfer — October 2, 2007 @ 10:54 am

  5. When I have to sign my name on the millions of Christmas cards my employer sends to clients, by about the 111st card, I forget how to spell my own name, and even if I don’t it somehow looks all wrong and very wierd.

    Comment by Anna — October 2, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  6. Proofreading essays? You call that torture?

    In MY family the ultimate grinding Sisyphean task for a child was … Thank You letters.

    (At least you don’t have to start all over again when you find something to change!)

    Eventually I discovered that if the spelling and handwriting were fine some elliptical ingratitude passed scrutiny. “One can never have too many fountain pens” amused my wife to be many years later.

    Or proofreaders.

    Comment by Eats Wombats — October 2, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  7. Tell you what, Petite, I’ll proofread some of your manuscript and you can do some of this translation I’m doing which is the most excruciating arty-farty drivel I have ever had the misfortune to come across. Deal? ;-)

    Comment by Claire — October 2, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  8. I find chocolate helps the concentration. A LOT of chocolate.

    Comment by Potty Mummy — October 2, 2007 @ 11:50 am

  9. In any case, don’t try to remove any sex-related anecdote from your manuscript … because if you take the “q” out of the “coquilles”, what do you get ?

    (And Bon Courage to your english-speaking readers on this one …)

    Comment by Yogi — October 2, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  10. I have the same problem with blackboards. It seems that although I am an excellent speller on paper, as soon as I start writing something on a blackboard, mysterious new consonants appear – and these are always the words that my students remember for years to come.

    Comment by Cath — October 2, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  11. Oh, another xkcd fan! I didn’t know you also had geeky humour!

    Comment by Markss — October 2, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  12. It sucks, doesn’t it! You thought they were paying you to write the thing, or the rights to publish it.


    They are paying for you to go back over everything you have written and double check that you did it properly.

    Don’t worry – you have a good track record for creating things – Tadpole is doing terribly well. How are the drama classes?

    Comment by Damian — October 2, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

  13. # 10 Excruciating! I remember once, when I was teaching EFL to French adults, I forgot how to spell the word “double”, all of a sudden I was convinced it had two b’s in the middle! Why does this happen in class??? The students in this class (who were doing a summer course) never really trusted me after this!

    Comment by Teaperson — October 2, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  14. You are brave to ask your mother to edit for you. I get so much unasked-for criticism from MY mother that I can’t even live in the same house with her for 3 days without wanting to flee; so this speaks well to your relationship with her, that you’d invite her CONSTRUCTIVE criticism for this project.

    Still, I feel your pain. I sent my book to print the other day and I’m totally convinced that there are STILL mistakes in it, despite the fact that I edited it myself at least a dozen times AND hired a friend to edit it as well. And it’s a book about writing a book, so if there ARE errors, rest assured I will be hearing about it and will be blushing the same shade of pink as your blog pages. But after a while, you just have to call it “done” and let the chips fall where they may (or would your mum have an issue with THAT phrase, too?)

    Comment by The Bold Soul — October 2, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  15. so pleased to see a link to xkcd in an unexpected place. it’s a beautiful thing.

    Comment by jill — October 2, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

  16. Stupid question, but have you tried reading it backwards, sentence by sentence – I find errors easier to spot that way as it fools your brains prediction reading.

    @ Eats Wombats: Likewise, not only that but when home left me (long story), even letters came back with red marks all over them. OK, am not Shakespeare, but…hey, he couldn’t spell either! My kids phone to say thank-you and still get moaned at for not having written a long enough letter. Growl!

    Comment by j — October 2, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  17. this is the second time in as many days ive seen the word biro… i guess it’s a pen? i cant find it in a dictionary… anyone?

    Comment by kara — October 2, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  18. OK. Now put the B-O-O-K down and step away from it. Now leave it alone for a couple of days. While leaving it, (the book!) alone for a couple of days, imagine someone else has written your book. Then, read your book, it will take on a whole new significance for you.

    If you concentrate on the detail too much, you’ll miss the big picture. Anyway, poofreading, sorry ;-) , proofreading is for pedants and you are a writer (as well as a worrier!).

    Comment by Steve... — October 2, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

  19. I presume you have included some of the, em…..saucier posts in the book. And your mother is reading it? What about your father? I’m going red just thinking about it.

    Comment by Susie — October 2, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

  20. Listen up, girl, if your book-writing is anything like your blog-writing, and I suspect/know it is, you need not worry–you’re a natural! I BS you not. And yes proof-reading sucks big time but Ballmer breaks are what the doctor ordered, should be used with judicious lubricious frequency, and mom should be a settling influence, so hang in there. You’ll be fine. The slog’ll be over soon and they you can really partaay when it’s done. :-) BTW nothing wrong with pedanticism-somehow our common language allows and encourages that–I mean look at Shakespeare: invented all kinds of words when he didn’t like those available.

    Cheers and I’ll join you for a Ballmer break anytime from Seattle

    Comment by Beau — October 2, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  21. Sorry for being a geek – have you thought about Using Google Docs ? You can both look at *and edit* the same document at the same time as each other.

    Comment by Jonathan — October 2, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  22. @jonathan – we don’t have the right to edit, all changes will be submitted to the copyeditor… Lots of people doing this same job.

    @kara – Biro is a brand name of ballpoint pen, which in the UK has become the word we use. Like Hoover for vacuum cleaner. All things which will no doubt be altered in the US version, for example…

    As for saucy – there are sex scenes. But not OneTrack type sex scenes. You know me, bit of a prude and all that.

    Comment by petite — October 2, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

  23. I know your pain. Well, actually I proofread voluntarily for the student newspaper (Someon had to do it) and I’m sure that anything you write will be ten times better than anything I’ve ever proofread. An essay written in textspeak (or txtspk) would probably give some of the stuff I’ve read a run for their money.

    I think ‘clapped eyes on’ is fine and that you’re right to keep thinking about your audience- it’s not a formal essay, you are allowed to be a bit flexible with terminology after all.

    I also agree with Eats Wombats above (disturbing name- I like it!) in that handwriting is so much easier in this sense, particularly with ‘real’ ink because if you put a comma in the wrong place it can easily be mistaken fro an extra flourish or a drip. Or I assume it can be as I passed my English Lang and Lit A-levels with top marks, despite not actually understanding the point of a semi-colon till I was 19.

    Comment by localfreak — October 2, 2007 @ 5:07 pm

  24. Last night I attended a book launch for an author who is an emeritus professor of history. This is a guy who has spent a lifetime going over essays and pointing out mistakes. So, he picks up one of the fresh copies of the book, cranks it open, and in two seconds he finds a typo.

    Think of your present situation as part of the initiation into the Published Authors’ Club.

    Comment by Juti — October 2, 2007 @ 5:07 pm

  25. I have found, when editing myself, I have the most success if I read it out loud to myself. You catch any glitch in the rhythm of the words, as well as grammar, spelling, transposition, etc. errors you may overlook if you just read it silently.

    Your story reminded me of how lucky I was to have such a smart Mommy who would read my stuff for me, and make corrections, even though I often was fit to be tied with her by the time she finished. It was excruciating the first time I had to write something without her. Enjoy your pedantic Mom, and finishing up your first book together. You are making a priceless memory.

    Comment by Lana Wood — October 2, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  26. Oh, I know EXACTLY what you mean — sometimes when I’m just sending an e-mail, a word repeated too often starts to look wrong. Like “often”. And I think the longer you live in another language (literally), the worse it gets. Now that I’m helping my son with his 6ème English homework, I doubt everything…Best of luck proofreading !

    Comment by magillicuddy — October 2, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  27. Pedanticness? Pedanticity? Pedantic tendancies?

    Let dear old mother scrub all those double negatives (as if!) sentences ending in prepositions (my pet hate) and other sins against grammar but LEAVE your colloquialisms! They make it from you and I love your writing style.

    Comment by Peggy — October 2, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  28. All mothers are pedants. No doubt, I am a pedant with the Bambina.

    Comment by Caroline in Rome — October 2, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  29. There are always typos, errors of grammar and glitches. You cannot spot your own errors because you know what you meant to say. And it does not matter if you read it aloud, upside down or underwater, you still cannot spot your own mistakes.
    Pedantry is not spotting the errors, it is letting them get in the way of the whole. The mere presence of a few typos, errors or glitches will I am sure be overwhelmed by glitz, style and panache.
    Am I the only person checking my text obesessively on this subject? I suspect not.

    Comment by laurence — October 2, 2007 @ 6:26 pm

  30. Lets swap – I’ll proofread the book, you can proofread the insurance policy I’m writing at the moment…..oh, ok…’ll stick with the book..?

    Comment by Nigel — October 2, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

  31. I guess I am a bit naive on these things but I always got the impression that someone else does all the proofreading for books within a publishing house. Regular breaks are the key, I think.

    Comment by sugar007 — October 2, 2007 @ 8:13 pm

  32. Gaaaaaaaaaaaah it’s awful. I have actually given up re-reading any of the various reports I generate (some stretching to 90+ pages) after the fact, because even after 50 million proofreads, they *still* have errors in them.

    You know, this two-paragraph comment is probably full of typos, too.


    Comment by Ricardipus, commenting — October 2, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

  33. yes, pedantry (tsk!) ;-)

    Comment by rhino75 — October 2, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  34. LOL! You are my break from proof reading a screenplay translation I have just completed. (or thought I had completed) There are some franglais CLANGERS in my translation, I can tell you that much. I hate how the languages muddle and play with each other and then I mistrust my ability to speak/write my mother tongue. I have full sympathy!! And at least I know I’m not the only one going through this tedium this week. Bon courage, petite!

    Comment by Hollywoodgal — October 2, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  35. I have been sending letters to clients, about 150 of them. With only about 20 to go, the end was near. All of the sudden I forgot how to sign my name. I stared at the letter waiting for my hand to write and nothing. I scribbled it down, no that’s not right…
    Time for a break.

    Comment by Mad William — October 2, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

  36. Waouhhh ! je suis tombée sur votre blog par hasard en cherchant le nom du dg de mac donalds france sur google…très intéressant votre blog et votre histoire…pas bcp le temps ce soir, mais je reviendrai vous lire bientôt…J’aime les Anglais (vécu 6 ans à Londres) et les écrivains…c’est vous qui étiez chez Nissan parce que je vous ai trouvé par un lien depuis un autre site???

    Comment by Stephanie — October 2, 2007 @ 11:21 pm

  37. i think it’s fairly hopeless trying to read your own work because you read what you think you wrote rather than what’s actually there. having said that, though, there were so many fresh errors that crept in between page proofs and bound proofs in that last one (i think the whole thing must have been rekeyed) that even i picked up loads. got to be done, i’m afraid.

    Comment by rivergirlie — October 3, 2007 @ 12:07 am

  38. just remember that you are a great writer! so in the end, it will all turn out. can’t wait for the final product. bon courage!

    Comment by nicoleh — October 3, 2007 @ 1:27 am

  39. John Caute (David to you) once remarked to me that every time he wrote a sex scene into one of his novels the cheque got bigger. As a Marxist historian he said that presented him with a problem, but not, he added, an unsurmountable one. Exploitation is a two way street.
    Not that your book will be other than a delightful read, with or without the essential cheque-enhancing scenes of bounty and fruitfulness…

    Comment by andrew — October 3, 2007 @ 1:36 am

  40. @17 kara

    “Biro” comes after the name of the guy who first built a ballpen.

    Bic had for ages the words “licence Biro” engraved on the shaft.

    That’s somewhat like “Fridge” after “Frigidaire”

    Comment by Saluki — October 3, 2007 @ 2:24 am

  41. TRUST YOUR JUDGEMENT … using phrases which are untrite, fresh and completely relatable to is the reason why you are so successful. You are a generational icon of sorts, a blogger who’s “clapped sights on” the era of the advent of the internet world. From a journal written to export your sentiments without secondary editing, you’ve earned a loyal following, of which I am one.
    You are understood, sympathized with and soo of the moment. Really, I read alot I haven’t read anything in your blog that didn’t make me want to come back for more. You know what you are doing.

    Comment by Julie Cuccia — October 3, 2007 @ 5:46 am

  42. Only ask to Wikipedia:ászló_Bíró

    Comment by Saluki — October 3, 2007 @ 7:29 am

  43. Proofreading your own stuff is so hard…..



    Poor you!

    Comment by Sally Lomax — October 3, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  44. It’s like looking at your own face in the mirror, and no longer being sure it’s a face, or yours, or even has any recognisable features on it.

    Comment by katie — October 3, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  45. How many words is your manuscript Petite?

    Comment by Alanah — October 3, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  46. 105k words (give or take a few).. I’m about a third of the way through, and the hardest thing is focusing on going slow and not letting the story take over …

    Comment by petite — October 3, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  47. The only thing more boring that proof-reading fiction. Proof-reading legal text. Trust me. I’m 550 pages through 850 pages and we go to press in just a couple of days.

    Comment by londongal — October 3, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

  48. Trust your editor (the professional), not your mother. In the kind of book you’ve written, colloquial is what’s wanted. Take it from one who’s made a good living as a writer and editor for longer than you’ve been alive.

    The problem with proofing your own stuff is that by the time you get to that point, you’re so sick of it you could scream, and your eye sees what you meant to write anyway, so you probably won’t catch the point at which you wrote kat for cat. Don’t worry: If you have a good editor and proofreader (and surely Penguin can provide those), most of the errors should have been caught. All of them? Probably not, based on what I see coming out of publishing houses these days. But hey, you can be charitable and give a thrill to the people who don’t have lives and whose biggest joy is pointing out the one or two missed typos. (Just don’t give them the pleasure of seeing “to John and I” instead of “to John and me”, and “we were laying” for “we were lying”, or else I’ll be joining them. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the modern generation of proofers to catch those errors.)

    Comment by Passante — October 4, 2007 @ 2:21 am

  49. The absence of doubt would be worrying. However you’re doubting therefore all is well. Don’t edit all the life out of the book however! This is not an exercise in syntax and pedantry…

    Comment by Ariel — October 4, 2007 @ 10:18 pm

  50. The xkcd turned me into a giggiling idiot for a good five minutes–

    Comment by Nicole — October 7, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  51. Good luck with the proofreading! I probably wouldn’t have your patience.

    Comment by Lost in France — October 7, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

  52. Sometimes when I read your blog, it seems we are of the same mind. I too have a wonderful mother who proofs things I write and often sends me snippits of my “inspired” blogging only to show my horrible errors! Anyway, did you know that if you also repeat a word over and over it no longer makes sense? It’s even extended into my work life, I’m often repeating the same question all day, how many ounces in a cup?

    Comment by Mochene — October 7, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

  53. If you want to invent a new word like pedanticism you go girl. It just means you’re in exalted company like Shakespeare who is possibly one of the greatest logodaedalists that ever lived.

    Comment by Stephen Brooks — October 9, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

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