When you’re editing, edit. When you’re proofreading, proofread. Never the twain should meet. (With apologies to Mr. Kipling.) It was Chapter 6 that made me stop and think about what I was doing. In the first paragraph, I moved one sentence around for smoother reading and added some new text. Then I rewrote the first sentence of the second paragraph. For the first time, it really registered that I do this every single time. I get to the supposedly final stage: proofreading, and make it another round of editing.
I don’t know if keeping editing and proofreading is meant to be a hard and fast rule, but it’s one that has an excellent reason for existing. With every edit, you take the chance of adding new, unnoticed errors. The way I changed one sentence meant that I had to be sure to close a newly split-up quote. Oops. Almost didn’t notice that. Editing while proofreading means that I have to be even more attentive, more alert, doing work that is already exhausting if I don’t take enough breaks to rest my eyes and brain.
More seriously, from my point of view at least, is that it makes me question why I’m still editing when the book is supposedly finished. When I look at the changes I’ve made, I have to wonder why I didn’t see the need for them much, much earlier. Am I just obsessive about details that readers won’t even notice? Or am I such a slow learner that even after writing a half-dozen novels, and having read innumerable articles, blog posts, and books about the craft of writing, I haven’t learned nearly as much as I should have by now?
There’s another possibility that’s discouraging because I can’t do a thing about it. Which means that I will always be editing while I’m proofreading. I know that my mental processing speed is slower than normal. I’m not fast on the uptake, a problem that can be compounded by auditory processing disorder. In a conversation, I may recognize that someone’s statement has something wrong about it, but I won’t be able to pin down what the problem is. And I’m having enough trouble keeping track of everything that’s being said, so there’s no chance to think about it. Hours, or even days later, it will come back to me and I’ll know exactly what was wrong.
I have the same problem with text. It may take days to understand what bothered me about something I’ve read. Once my brain makes it through its snail-pace processing it has no problem. I know what’s wrong. I just can’t access it immediately. Obviously, or I would have given up writing a long time ago in sheer frustration, I do gradually learn well enough to access important knowledge with less delay. But it’s a very slow process, and the amount of craft knowledge you need to have under your belt is seemingly endless. Also, much of it is abstract and thus harder to grasp than proper punctuation or spelling.
For now, I have to decide whether I can simultaneously edit and proofread, or whether I’l have to torture myself with an eye-blinding, brain-burning final proofread. Because there will always be something that I can improve.