Copy Editing vs Creativity
But I think the real reason copy editing takes so long and feels so draining, is that we need to jump back and forth between the pedantry of noticing unintended rhymes (yes, even after reading aloud, a few creep in), or of the two words that have been repeated in one sentence, or the phrase that has been lovingly, sickeningly, reused six times in the book. My editor once told me that every author seems to have one word or phrase that they get stuck on for different books, but it’s little comfort. They’re often words I don’t even particularly like, and I have no idea why they’ve snuck in so persistently.
That unfinished comparison was of course a trick to see if you were paying attention with good copy-editing eyes. To start again: We need to jump back and forth between pedantry and creativity. It’s very easy to get stuck on replacing the word that seems to be the problem: replace ‘too’ with ‘also’ because you used ‘too’ in the previous sentence. Except that for some reason, ‘also’ just sounds awkward there. And you can’t replace the previous one because it’s the other meaning of too.
At that point you need to get up, walk away from the computer, let the dog out, call the dog back in from digging in the mud, wash the dog, wash the floor (okay, maybe the copy editing wasn’t six hours straight). But often the instant you walk away from the screen, you see a completely different, even simpler, and much better way of saying that very simple sentence.
(If you’re curious, this copy edit was on the fifth Rainbow Street Shelter series: STOLEN! A Pony Called Pebbles. ABANDONED! A Lion Called Kiki has just been released, so I think Pebbles will be published in November this year. With a bit of luck, we’ll even have finished the copy edits by then.)
Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Dragonfly Song, a novel in free verse and prose of an outcast girl who becomes a bull-leaper in Bronze Age Crete. Read full bio