I've been spending the last few days proof reading my second novel. Actually, that makes it sound as though I've been locked away in a box doing nothing but poring over endless pages of prose but the truth of it is that I've been fitting it around lots of other, much more exciting things - things like sleeping, emptying bins and examining my fingernails.
Unlike writing, which I actually do for fun, proof reading is boundlessly and inexpressibly dull. It's a process that absolutely no one could or should enjoy; it's tedious, unrewarding but lamentably necessary - like using dental floss or attending a works Christmas party. It's possible that there are people out there who enjoy things like that but, in all honesty, I wouldn't want to meet any of them.
Getting a book ready for publication is a little like booking a holiday to somewhere nice. It's all about the expectation. Before it all happens, you can immerse yourself in lots of fondly imagined scenarios - gazing up at quiet, azure skies or lying on empty palm-fringed beaches whilst Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc pass you inexhaustible supplies of iced sponge fingers. (That's the idyllic I've-just-published-a-successful-novel part of the metaphor for those who missed it.) Before that, however, (and this is where you can start to draw parallels with proof-reading) there is the messy reality of shopping trips and health insurance documents, of packing and weighing baggage, of fending off the massed ranks of insurance brokers and car hire agencies who clearly aren't going to go away until they have sold you something unnecessary and profanely over-priced.
What I'm getting at is that it's boring. You've already done the interesting work; you've sucked your metaphorical pencil (no one sucks keyboards as far as I know), you've amused yourself with daft bits of dialogue and you've spent days and months shaping and re-shaping your plot until the whole thing makes a kind of sense. Now, the challenge is essentially over and all that remains is to see whether anyone thinks it's any good. However, before you can release it, you've got to re-read it all - and not just once but so many times that the words begin run together and you're no longer sure whether your eyes are reading what's actually there or whether you're just remembering what you think you meant to write in the first place. And there's just so much of it. Next time, I swear I'm going to try my hand at limericks.
The problem is compounded by the fact that my fingers seem to be intent on betraying me. They make the usual typographical errors, as I'm sure everyone does, but they also like to hide some rather devious ones of their own. For example, they will always (and I use the word in the literal sense of 'without fail') represent the word 'confirm' as 'conform,' they will often serve up 'form' instead of 'from' and they will invariably type 'doe snot' when the phrase for which I was rather optimistically hoping was 'does not.' If you were to set up an ear, nose and throat clinic for large woodland mammals, you wouldn't see any more instances of doe snot than you'd find in my last written draft.
I wonder whether these errors are peculiar to me or whether many of us fall foul of the same patterns. If it's only me, that could be quite an exciting discovery because it might suggest that there's a whole new line of forensic research just waiting to be explored. Criminologists the world over could soon be studying messages from kidnappers and online predators with a renewed vigour. Just as a falling apple is held to have been the trigger one of Newton's greatest realisations, so a simple inability to type 'confirm' correctly could usher in a new age of successful law enforcement. I will be delighted if that proves to be the case, though I won't be at all surprised if it doe snot.