Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When Nothing Is Good

Several months ago, when the airline went down on the Hudson River and everyone survived, the common reaction was "What a miracle!" So much, in fact, the media named the incident "Miracle on the Hudson."

At that time a friend of mine who lives in New York - somewhat of a faith skeptic anyway - wrote me to say, "What kind of miracle is it that the plane went down and no one got hurt? Wouldn't the bigger miracle have been if the geese had flown the other way and nothing had happened?"

This made me laugh, because every day in America thousands of flights take off and land with no incident. According to one website, there are 1300 that take off every day from New York alone. That is a lot of miracles that no one notices! Until something went wrong, no one cared about how often it went right.

This morning my husband sent me this article, and if you hang with me here, you'll see how this all ties into my life and writing.

When Nothing Happens

  By Brian Friel

Ten years ago this month, federal technology managers were logging extra hours and getting their final plans in place for overcoming the looming Y2K computer challenge. If you recall the hullabaloo, computer experts worried that six-digit date codes -- 11-01-99, for example -- would cause computer systems to go haywire when the date turned to 01-01-00. In November 1999, agency information technology chiefs developed patches to deal with the problem, including rejiggering the code to eight digits, with four digits for the year.

At the end of the following month, IT managers spent their New Year's Eve in the office, just to make sure nothing bad happened. From the Defense Department to the General Services Administration, from Social Security offices to the White House, the managers saw midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, come and go without a hitch. They had spent the previous four years and more than $8 billion to make sure nothing happened. And nothing happened.

Much of what government does can be measured by a similar standard. Nothing happened? Mission accomplished. Preventing terrorist attacks or foreign invasion, preserving protected park land and avoiding airline accidents are among the government goals that share the absence of a result as the hoped-for result.

Of course, none of those goals is easily accomplished. Each takes a great deal of labor, technical expertise, planning and execution. They're the kinds of goals that keep federal managers up at night, because even with strong leadership, failure always is a possibility. Enemies with evil intentions lurk around many corners, and accidents ignore zero-tolerance policies. Even one failure can be catastrophic.... After nothing happened, government IT bosses patted themselves on the back, but no one else did. 

So why did my wonderful husband send this to me? Because I've been buried this week in my galley proof, proofreading. Line by tedious line. Nearly 90,000 words worth. Checking for errant commas, dropped letters, spacing issues, typos, accidental shifts in tense. Hour after hour, days on end.

And what do I have to show for it? Nothing. Except eye strain and four baskets of clean, unfolded laundry.

Will anyone read my book and say, "Wow! What an excellent job of proofreading the author and editor did! There's not a single typo!" 


But if I miss that mispelled word, if I miss the dropped letter that changes the to he, they will notice then. And not in the way I want them to.

Writing - and publishing - is not just about the big things you do that everyone sees. Sometimes it's about the big things you do that nobody notices.


  1. What an awesome post. :0) Thank you for sharing. It's a great thing to shift our attitudes every once in a while and look at things a little differently. There are so many things that go right daily that we take for granted. You are doing great, girl!! I'm proud of you...and as long as the clothes are clean-well, you are further than I am. LOL :0)

  2. I love this post. It's the little things that add up, the things that no one sees you doing.

  3. I'm waiting for 2012, ha,ha.

    I thought the "Miracle on the Hudson" really was a miracle. Heaven knows, if I was on a plane and somebody told me we were landing in the water, I'd be pretty sure I was going to see Saint Peter that day.

  4. Kristi - did I forget to mention the dishes piled in the sink and the layer of dust on the furniture and the bathrooms?? :)

    Patti - the writing always feels like the most important thing, but I've read good stories that all I can remember about them was the bad editing and proofing. You're right - Those little things ARE important!!

    Christy - I thought it was a miracle too! I don't know why all miracles have to look the same. I actually think it's a miracle those hulking pieces of metal stay up in the air at all. My husband keeps trying to explain it's science, but I'm not convinced. It looks a little like magic to me!

  5. Great post.

    "at is a lot of miracles that no one notices"

    I knew about the Y2k problem a bit before most as I was studying Computer Science at the time. I graduated in '99, so I missed the bit y2K cash in. I'll just have to wait until the Y10K crisis hits. I'm sure there will still be mainframes around then, running old Cobol code. :)

  6. What great insight! You are right. Your writing should go unnoticed by the reader. I mean everything should flow so smoothly that the reader JUST READS which is a shame because we spend so much time perfecting the prose and grammar.

  7. I love this post! Perfect. It's the little things that most people will never notice that add up.

  8. You know I did actually have an agent (one that passed) tell me that she really appreciated that my manuscript was so clean. It was clean because I'd edited it to death and had many people beta read for me. So what I'm saying is, agents and/or editors will notice if you submit a clean manuscript (or at least some of them will :) So keep up the good work!

  9. Very interesting approach. Believe it or not, that is something I do notice when I read. Then, when I have enjoyed a good read, without having to stumble over lost letters, grammar challenges and typos, I send a mental 'Kudos' to the author and all who were involved in turning out a good product. Keep up the good work.

    ~ Yaya
    Yaya's Home

  10. Really good post, article and advice. Hi, I'm Mary and I just read your comment on Lisa and Laura's blog. I agreed and liked what you had to say. Now I'm a follower.

  11. Mary - Welcome! It's always fun to find new friends! I think last I looked I was the lone man out on LiLa's blog! I'm glad to know I'm not alone! :)

  12. Guilty of reading books and finding typos. Totally guilty.

    Now onto the "Wow. Really?" moment. The author actually has to proofread her own book once it's been typeset. Seriously?

    I'm not joking. I really thought once you had a deal and it was turned over to the printer everything inside the covers was proofed by the copy editor.

    I did assume the author bio and the synopsis was proofed by the author, but not the rest.

    Wow. Really?

    And just for the record, I would love to be in your shoes editing my own copy of 90K words that will hit bookshelves soon. Congratulations!

  13. Cardio girl - thanks! it's a very exciting time, albeit a bit nervewracking!

    I don't know how the big presses work. Maybe they just do it all, but I think even up until the end the author can look over it and change it.

    My book was all done - edited and everything - and put in book format so it looks exactly like it will in a bookstore. Then I get a copy (called the galley proof) and I had the opportunity to go over it to make sure it was exactly how I liked it. I found a few comma errors, one typo, and two inconsistencies we hadn't caught before that were fairly minor but would have bugged me had I not noticed them until the mass public had the book!

    So I essentially was re-copyediting. And then I sent it back to my editor who re-re-copyedited it. It's just good to have several sets of eyes on it, especially when you've read it numerous times and it's easy to read what you think is there instead of what is really there!