Groundhog Author Makes an Appearance

I thought I should pop my head up to see if anyone sees my shadow.

Actually, it’s a miracle I popped my head up at all. The editing of Joseph is slow, though rewarding. I love the effect of tweaking a sentence to get the rhythm right or of replacing a word with another that makes a phrase sing. It is, however, an arduous and time-consuming process. First you have someone go through the manuscript for obvious inconsistencies and passages of irredeemable murkiness. In my case, I have the good fortune of a wife who is a journalist and pretty darn good and diligent copy editor. She will catch a lot of quirky punctuations, typos, and inconsistent capitalizations. There usually aren’t many misspellings, because I have an obsession with spelling, and get quite upset with myself when I get a word wrong. I guess it goes back to fourth grade and Miss Murphy, who hated me (with good cause), and decided to take me down a peg or two by giving me the word “facetious” in a spell-down. Her leer of satisfaction when I opened with a “V” stays with me to this day.

But, I digress. After the mechanical and conceptual clean up, I get to the hard edit. Here’s where I confront all the passages in the book that I marked with an underline while I wrote. Those underlines indicate that I wasn’t happy with the phrasing, or that I wasn’t sure that passage belonged, or that I didn’t trust the accuracy of what I said, or that I simply gave up on that section for some reason and left it for correction in my final pass. Each of those underlines represents a potential minefield of problems. An error of fact or clumsiness of phrasing could occupy me for an entire day. After all, there’s a reason why I bailed on that passage during the actual writing.

This is also the time when I go through to make sure my chapter breaks make sense. Chapters are a funny thing. In my small books, most of the chapters are really discreet essays/sermons/meditations, and are conceived from the beginning as whole pieces. They have an internal build and a natural conclusion. In this Joseph book, the chapters need to be shaped after the fact. I’m never comfortable when someone ends a chapter at a place that makes no sense. It’s not a big thing; it just seems lazy and sloppy. I don’t want to stand accused of the same inadequacy.

Finally, on this book, there will be end notes explaining some measure of the research process. The editor is already nervous for the length of the book — over 400 manuscript pages — but I need to give some explanation of my sources and choices. That, along with maps, will be my last run-through.

There’s a lot more to the process than I have explained, but those are the bare outlines. It’s the stage at which you, metaphorically, turn a house into a home. You can’t scrimp on it.

So, away I go, an intellectual groundhog going to earth in his manuscript, content to have poked his head into the sun for a moment, but now invested in a few more weeks of subterranean existence.

I hope you’ll bear with me. I promise I’ll resurface from time to time.

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