I mentioned in my last post that I had had a poem accepted by Light Quarterly. The way I found out was by getting an author’s proof in the mail. I could have dashed off an email, saying yeah, it’s perfect, but instead I had the great good sense to call my friend, Stephanie, an excellent writer, and even more important at that moment, an excellent editor. Stephanie, despite being in the midst of downsizing from a house to a small apartment (did I mention she’s also an expert at de-cluttering and organizing?) rushed over that very afternoon. By then, I had spotted what I was sure was an error in punctuation, one that despite all the times I had read this poem to various groups and individuals, I had not really seen until that moment. I let Stephanie read the poem without mentioning my concern. I wanted her to see it without being influenced by me. Sure enough, the same thing that had stopped me in the middle of the poem, jumped out at her right away.
Now, we’re talking about a simple 8-line, 2 quatrain bit of light verse, not the Magna Carta. But Stephanie and I chewed over that one change for quite a while. Did it need to be changed at all? If so, what would we use instead? A dash? a comma? We decided that yes, it did have to be changed, and that the current period should be replaced with a semi-colon. I sent an email to that effect later that day, and the change was acknowledged by the editor.
I have two points to make with this story. Okay, three. Maybe four. First, yes, every word, every bit of punctuation, even in the smallest of efforts, does matter. When something is going into print, you only have one chance to get it right. Second, if at all possible, get at least a second pair of eyes on everything you submit. I have a firm rule about this. I have broken this firm rule. I have regretted breaking this firm rule. Third, no matter how many times you go over a manuscript, whether on the screen or on the page, you can still miss glaring errors. So, edit, re-read, revise each piece as long and of often as you can, even when you’re sick of it. Fourth, and most important, be lucky enough to have dynamic, generous, loyal, honest, patient friends. If they are writers and editors, even better. Stephanie takes this stuff seriously. She places as much importance on that one bit of punctuation as I do. The best friends provide validation as well as practical help. I hope and believe I do the same for them, whatever challenges they are going through.