Adventures in Editing

I got the chance last month to participate in some actual editing. An author I know was preparing a collection of essays for publication and solicited readers of his blog for help with editing. I have never edited anything but my own work (although if you work with me, I have edited at least a sentence of yours as it is a compulsion) and have always enjoyed the process.

Each of us was given access to an online file sharing site where the raw first draft lay. Now I have always had my own way of doing things and I guess it is rather behind the times. I write on a word processor (the excellent Scrivener) but I print out a draft and edit it longhand. I do so for the same reason that I dislike mind-mapping software – doing it on the computer lacks speed and spontaneity.

The process was to be to download an rtf copy of the manuscript into Word and keep corrections visible through Track Changes and their add comments feature.

I do not own Word being a Mac user and not of favorable opinion on most things MS. I quickly found that even though Scrivener could do the things that were required for the job, it did them in ways that were completely incompatible with the project standards. Scrivener’s version of Track Changes uses a color coding system and a separate thing called Snapshots. You don’t see the former version of the text alongside the new correction; what you do is create what is called a Snapshot of the document as a whole that you can reference back and forth from the newer version to the original (you can also build a cascade of these through multiple snapshots and color-coding showing different levels of revision).

This might sound cumbersome but it has a number of advantages. One of the obvious ones is that you can easily keep track of multiple revisions and have them all at hand easily. For instance, let’s say you have a chapter that you have edited four times. At the end you may decide that version two is the one that you decide is closer to your intention after all. Not a problem, you can now have version two be your original and you can even start a new version stack from version number two while maintaining the original version stack that originated from the original original version.

Word may be able to do something similar, but I doubt it is easier than Scrivener’s versioning. Although I do like seeing on the same document the original and the changes right next to each other on the same page. I can certainly see its advantage in collaborative projects such as I was on. Although you can see up to three versions of your chapter or text in Scrivener either horizontally or vertically at once in Scrivener.

Anyway, after an hour or so I found that Scrivener was not going to be compatible with this project (although it handled the massive 469 page document as if it was a mere paragraph while everything else I used practically sank under its weight). Text Edit, which is Apple’s version of Word Pad, was obviously out for the same reason Word Pad would be. It is good for pecking out a simple document or for drafting a blog post, but nothing heavier than the most basic of text work.

I then went online to look for a word processor. I wasn’t prepared to spend over $100 for Word especially since it comes with at least 3 other programs of bloatware. Sorry, I just don’t need to synch my slideshow in realtime with some schlep in Singapore or any of the other million things Microsoft feels global corporations – and my grandmother – need to be able to do.

First was OpenOffice. What a piece of work that is. It had the equivalent of Word’s Track Changes and comment insertions. And I dug in and got the first two essays completed on the first night. Although by this time that little bit took some seven hours.

I close the program and go to bed. The following night I click on the program and it will not open at all. It gives me one of those indecipherable line-error messages that means there is a corruption in the file. Well, the corruption is from the word processor because Scrivener can toss the program around like a pancake.

So I go back online and download, after throwing OpenOffice in the trash bin, LibreOffice which is basically the same thing by, I suppose, different volunteers. And I get to the same point I was before – the first two essays. I close the program and go to bed. The next day I go to fire up the program and – same error as the last program. Into the trash bin.

Obviously I was getting what I paid for – jack shit. So I spend $10 on a program called NeoOffice.

You would all be within the bounds of justice to say this is really a story of me editing on the cheap.

This program seemed to work. I even did a little bit of editing, closed the program, and opened it back up to see if it would work. It did, and it had the same functionality as the other two turds.

On the second day of using this program I notice that it does not save the comment insertions after closing and reopening. Alright, so what? If I need to communicate something badly enough I can simply email the author.

The next week was a full work week with a bad cold, I basically got up, went to work, came home, edited, climbed into bed, rinse and repeat all week. I enjoyed that very much… except for the cold – that one was brutal. I was even calling it my second job at work.

Gradually I made it over three quarters through the document (I think it was page 350 or something). I sit down on, I believe, the 20th of last month with a little more than a week left to deadline. The document always opened to page one for some reason so I scroll down –

It ends at page 18. Where the %&*%#^*^^%@&&*!!!!!???? are the other pages?????? I have never found them, they are nowhere, and I know every nook and cranny of my Mac. To say I was pissed is an understatement. To say I should have been pissed at myself for being cheap would be justified.

So I decide it is going to have to be TextEdit after all. I went through most of the document already and so could recall where a good number of errors were by memory. So I bring up the document from its internet host on one side of my 13″ screen and have text edit on the other. Starting yet again from page one I found the errors (and now I am just going for obvious surface errors because I have almost no time left – no complaining about unclear sentence structures or misplaced prepositions – just the basics) copied each one singly and pasted into a blank TextEdit rtf document. Then I would copy that and paste a copy below it with the corrections and a quick explanation of the fix.

One of the stupid things about TextEdit is if you copy some text from one program and paste it into TextEdit, it may paste a single word on the first line 5 on the next line and the rest on a third line even though the entire piece copied was only nine works long. So you would have to, after the first paste, cut the piece from the next line, paste it back to the beginning on the first line and repeat for the third line.

I finished the first three or first essays in such a fashion the first (actually the 21st night). The author told me this method would have to do and just drop it in his email. I was really hurrying now. I knew it was a volunteer project and I was doing it simply for pleasure (which cheap software certain dampened!) but I didn’t want to be the loser who turned in nothing! He writes back with the text I had sent him. It went from my email to his as complete gibberish!

I was about to bow out at that time, but he suggested that I just upload the files to the original sharing site. Everyone else has Word documents they were uploading and I hadn’t thought that would be acceptable. But I did it and they came up fine.

Then it was merely slamming through the rest of the essays. I still ended up 67 pages away from the end when the deadline cut out, but I think I ran a good race. And, luckily, I was only one of many (at least 8 judging from the names on the uploads) editors. Although I can happily say I checked all the finished edits and I was the only one who caught the giant booger of an error in the second essay.

Next time I will have Word, I’ll spend the money.

Would I do this again? Hell yes!

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2 responses to “Adventures in Editing

  • Sylvie D. Rousseau

    Nice recounting of your adventure. This work done by devoted and brilliant fans is going to be a pearl. I would not miss it for the world.

    I have been using MS Word since 1998, when I was forced to abandon the far superior WordPerfect after 10 years of bliss because MS Office took up the entire market here. I still hate Word with all my guts and never miss an occasion to whine about it, even though the 2010 edition we now use at my office is, at long last, about acceptable.

    • bensira587

      When I was in college in 98-99 we used Word Perfect. I absolutely agree (at least at the time I used it which is now 15 years ago) Word Perfect was far and away the better product. Every few years I check to see if they have got their heads on straight and have released a Mac version. No luck yet.

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