So I run around returning things to where they belong. Making sure fragile objects aren't teetering near the edges of tables. Scanning the floor for stray earrings that might not get seen before I vacuum.
I turn it into a game sometimes, trying to make sure each time they visit that the place is a little tidier than the last. That little collection of clutter on the dining room table was there on their last visit--time to do something about it. That picture I've been meaning to hang was leaning against the wall last time. Get the hammer and a nail.
I'm sure the cleaners don't care. The probably don't even notice how good or bad the place looks except when they visit during, say, the last few weeks before a deadline, when everything suddenly looks ever so much worse.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to wake up on the day before the cleaners come, look around, and realize that I don't really need to do anything before they come. It's not perfect--it needs cleaning, of course, or why bother with the cleaners. But it's uncluttered, organized, tidy--completely ready for their visit.
I may never achieve this goal, but aiming for it keeps my surroundings in a much more harmonious state.
In between bouts of tidying, as I pored over my copyedited manuscript I found myself nodding with satisfaction. If I say so myself, I turn in a reasonably clean manuscript. I came across whole pages with only a couple of marks. Or no marks at all other then routine instructions to the typesetter. The copyeditor marks every dash with a "1" over it and an "M" under it, to show that this should be an M-dash instead of an N-dash or two hyphens, for example, and calls out every instance of italics in case the typesetter misses it.
Clean manuscripts don't just happen. I work on this. Before I got published, I spent twenty years working in corporate communications, which means I put in my time as the copyeditor who had to polish someone else's words into perfection. So each time I get a copyedited manuscript for review, I try to look on it not as a chore but as an opportunity to learn more about my craft.
Why did the copyeditor add or remove that comma? Hmmm . . . I don't like that change--I know it's more grammatical, but this is dialogue, and that just doesn't sound like something a real human being would say. Oh, she's right--that next paragraph sounds weird with "probably" appearing twice in one sentence. Which one should I take out?
I learned, during the first or second book, that I was unsound on the difference between farther and further. I've learned it now. On one book I instinctively rebelled when the copyeditor changed "for a while" to "for awhile." I couldn't quote you the rule or cite you a page in The Chicago Manual of Style, but it felt wrong, so I looked it up. My instinct was good, and now I know the rule to prove it.
Invariably there will be corrections that make me cringe with embarrassment that I wrote a sentence so lame . . . and corrections so lame that I write stet in firmly enough to breakthe paper. And a few typos will slip past both my copyeditor and me--I don't know what the copyeditor's excuse is, but after the first ten or twenty or thirty times I read something I've written, I no longer see what's on the page--I see that is in my head. Still, I work hard at turning in not only a good book but also a manuscript that is as clean as I can make it.
Occasionally I run into writers--usually writers still aspiring to publication--who turn up their noses at all that boring mechanical work of spell-checking and grammar policing and fine tuning every sentence. "It's the story that counts," they will say. "I'm a creative artist; there are editors and proofreaders to fix all those boring details."
As someone who has spent her share of time on the editorial side of the table, I agree that the story is ultimately what counts. But sometimes a good story is hard to spot when it's buried up to its ears in typos and grammatical errors.
Imagine an editor who has one slot in her publication schedule to fill and two manuscripts in front of her. The stories are equally good, but one manuscript is clean, polished, largely free of the kind of nitpicking errors that a copyeditor has to fix and the other needs a lot of cleanup. Which one will the editor choose?
At least that's how I approached preparing manuscripts when I was an aspiring writer. And how I still approach them today. My editor knows I can write by now, of course, but I don't want to turn in a sloppy manuscript that would inspire anyone to think, "Hmmm. She's getting careless. Wonder if she's cutting corners on the writing, too."
Does anyone else feel this way, I wonder? Or is this another case of "cleaning for the cleaners?" All I know is that it matters to me.