Saturday, July 29, 2006

Chasing Perfection

I’m coming up to the final stretch of copy-editing work on Players. After that, the manuscript will be checked over at the publishers, and then it will go off to the printers. When I get a set of proofs, I’ll have a last chance to correct infelicities, repeated words, howlers and simple spelling mistakes before the book goes into production. Almost inevitably, some mistake or other will get through; you can chase perfection as long as you like, in the company of your editor, sub-editor, copy-editor, friends . . . but it's like Zeno's paradox. You can only approach the target in ever smaller increments, you can never reach it.

You might think that poets have it easier - their books, after all, usually contain far fewer words than the average short story, let alone a novel. But as Don Paterson notes in a day-in-the-life article in the Weekend Guardian, they have to watch out for a special horror - inadvertent acrostics formed by the first letters of succeeding lines. On the other hand, he’s able to read his poems line by line backwards to ferret out glitches; just try doing that with a novel. I dare you.


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