The limits of self-editing

Most bloggers either have no editing (me, typically) or self-editing (that is: you write a draft, save it, and come back to look at it before posting) for their posts. A very small number may have editors available. That’s fine for blogs.

Unfortunately for readers (but necessarily for reality), Cites & Insights also only has self-editing. I go back to each individual essay at least once, after at least a day’s rest, to review it carefully and revise it. I also print out all the articles in a forthcoming issue, let that printout sit for a day or more, and go through it line-by-line with a red pen. That’s before copyfitting (getting the issue down to an appropriate even number of pages)–and if copyfitting has been extreme, I’ll print the issue out once more, wait a day, then check it over for oddities. (But I won’t print yet another copy unless there are significant changes.)

I’m a reasonably good editor, I believe, based on nine years’ experience editing the LITA Newsletter, two or three years editing Information Standards Quarterly and three years creating and editing Library Leadership Network. I wonder whether one can ever be as effective self-editing as editing other people’s copy…

Case in point

I was reminded of this yesterday and today. I’m doing a special Spring 2010 edition of Cites & Insights (probably out tomorrow, possibly Saturday, possibly late today), primarily devoted to a single essay “hypePad and buzzkill,” which also introduces a new running feature “The Zeitgeist.” (The first few pages is a Bibs & Blather about sponsorship, being semi-retired and other quandaries…). I’d edited the big essay twice and the B&B once. Putting them together in “issue form,” I got 35 pages; the editing cycle itself didn’t reduce that, but copyfitting and some on-the-fly editing brought it down to 32 pages.

I was happy with what I had–but I thought it might be possible to trim it down to 30 pages and maybe tighten it up in the process. So I did that (and succeeded)…and, in the process, caught and fixed at least eight typos that I wouldn’t have caught otherwise.

I’d love to say that I’ve now caught most of the errors in the issue; I think that’s true, but know better than to claim it. (I’d love to say I’ve caught all of them…but my hubris seems to be on permanent vacation.)

I’m pretty sure I would have caught none of those eight in that “final reading” of the printed issue. For some reason, the kind of reading I was doing on this second pass, primarily devoted to “can I cut this sentence? Can I cut this entire paragraph?” thinking, also yielded that many “hmm, look at that” moments.

Deeper meaning? Probably none. I’m happy that none of the typos affected meaning; they all just made me look slightly illiterate, and by now I’m used to that.

[That's an early warning: There will be a new Cites & Insights, volume 10, number 5, out Real Soon Now. It's sponsored by the Library Society of the World. You really should read the masthead when it appears--at the very end of the very last page, as usual.]

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