Wednesday, November 18, 2009
When Nothing Is Good
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.