I published Raven’s Gift almost four months later than I expected. I was printing drafts at CreateSpace, trying to get the cover to look right. I had not reviewed the text for months. In fact, I was afraid to proofread the text again, and here’s why: I’m new to this business of writing novels, and as I work at it, I keep improving. I was afraid that if I took a close look at my first novel, after doing so much more writing, I was liable to want to change everything. However, when the cover looked right, I decided to do one more edit to make sure the text was clean, nearly errorless, etc.
I did four more drafts, about one per month, before releasing the novel to publishing. I made about a thousand changes. (How did I do that without introducing many new errors?) I’ll blog about that another time; it’s an interesting challenge.) During those months, I found and corrected some small logical errors in my story. I was very surprised to find any logical errors, but that shows you what the passage of time can reveal.
About 25% of my edits were the kind I had feared: I was improving the text, polishing it in light of my new-found skills. I corrected typos. I changed every single apostrophe in the novel (I count this as one edit), because I had suddenly discovered how to make my word-processor enter left and right single apostrophes instead of ugly ‘vertical’ apostrophes.
And now at last, we come to the interesting part: I made many corrections in punctuation and typography: removing spaces where there should be no space; turning around double quotes that faced the wrong way; being consistent about many minor aspects of English that require consistency. Etc., Etc.
There’s a reason I had so many of these typographical mistakes to deal with at the end, and that reason fascinates me. They crept in there because I have been, by profession, a software developer.
I’ve written mostly for the C and C++ Compilers. These Compilers turn my software text into code that computers can run. The compilers are unforgiving about most careless errors. They catch them. They even catch most misspellings. I’ve been able to concentrate on the logic of my conceptions and not sweat the small stuff when I write software; the compiler is my safety net for little mistakes. (Not all mistakes! I’ll show you a beauty at the end of this blog item.)
Writing fiction is different, as I’ve learned the hard way. I, and my proofreader (if any), have to find all these niggling errors. No computer program will do it for me. When I write a rough draft, I do not worry at all about misspellings or any other kind of error. But once I start to edit, I’m now an eagle-eyed tiger for every little mistake. I don’t want to spend months finding most of the casual blunders at the bitter end, and I know that the compilers I am used to living with can’t help me.
For those of you who can read C code, here’s the sort of typographical mistake you just mustn’t ever make. I needed to copy “CustomerName,” a nul-terminated “char *” string, into a block of memory. I allocated a memory block this size: strlen( CustomerName+1);
That misplaced parenthesis caused me ten hours of agonized debugging, while my program crashed randomly all over the place.