This Papery Hellsbroth of... Despair

Call me insensitive (I've been called worse), but I laughed my head off in self-recognition over AL Kennedy's despair while editing her book's page proofs. Page proofs, otherwise known as galleys, are the author's last chance to catch errors.

At the proof stage, the author may only correct spelling, punctuation, grammatical, and continuity errors. She's not allowed (under threat of being charged the cost of resetting type - as if this were still being done by ink-spattered medieval printers) to do any rewriting. Which is where the horror sets in, as the author -- desensitized to the story's charm after rereading it dozens of times -- sees nothing but, well, as AL Kennedy puts it...

Did you ever know what this final sentence means? Will that character stand up to even the most cursory examination? Why did you ever think this was any use? Can anything within the compass of your meagre abilities be done to remedy this papery hellsbroth of shit?

I usually finish my page proofs thinking, this is it, the beginning of the end. The book that will have the critics saying Thompson's lost it and my readers turning their backs on me forever. I'm so sickened by the activity, I'm never able to reread the book after publication. What if I find something else - something critical I missed which people snicker about behind their hands but are too polite to tell me? I can certainly relate to the old joke about writer's Hell being a place where all the libraries contain only copies of his/her own books.

By now, I've realized, of course, that it's familiarity that's bred contempt and that there's no paranoia quite like a writer's. Still, it does my heart good to know I'm not the only person who reacts this way to page proofs or the umpteenth revision of a manuscript. It's a great reminder that we lose perspective on our own work and, at times, turn into our own worst critics. I can think of one incident where a critique partner (thank you, Pat Kay) prevented me from trashing a proposal that ultimately went on to launch a publishing line and garner a Rita nomination and giving up on the idea I could ever write a contemporary novel, much less something as challenging as romantic suspense.

Anyone else ever suffer this same writers' ailment? Is there anything you can do to regain perspective?


Nancy J. Parra said…
LOL! This is so familar to me, too.

Glad to know I'm not alone. Cheers!
EmilyBryan said…
Writers should have their own wing in all psyche wards. We are walking bundles of neurosis. We thrive on praise and wilt under criticism and if ever I think to myself, "Dang! That's the best thing I've ever written!" I know it's time to hit the delete button.

Sending cyber-sympathy,
DebStover said…
Kind of like our children. By the time we see the page proofs, we're at the "they're so ugly only a mother could love them" stage. ;-)


If we couldn't laugh about it, we'd cry. (Voting for laughter once again!)

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