Is line editing good for writing? The obvious answer is yes.
Checking carefully through what you have written for grammatical, spelling, and formatting mistakes (or getting someone else to do it for you, if you can!) is an important final stage in any serious writing. Call me old-fashioned, but I do think it’s key to convincing your future reader that you are serious and careful in all aspects of your research. That’s not a particularly controversial argument (although it might be one that rather neglects the issues of access to “correct” linguistic forms and educational institutions).
Yet editing line by line for those tedious misplaced comma,s Americanizzzzed spellings, and wandering footnotes is not exactly my idea of a fun night in… especially after almost two weeks of snatching time from other commitments to perform this mindless tweaking on the final draft of my thesis (and battle my word processor’s desire to undo and complicate my. Simple. Changes. Just. Leave. Them. Please.). I like to think I have some knowledge of my own weaknesses, and I’ve never felt that spelling and grammar are among them, yet word searching through my thesis I found I had misspelt the name of the man whose manuscripts my research focused on five (yes, actually five) times (Aranudin, Arnadin, Arnudin… etc). I misspelt “folklorist” (a pretty key term in my research!) nine times.
Sentences without verbs. Pages without numbers. Footnotes without content.
So it may be good, but line editing is a drag, the academic equivalent of eating enough fibre, brushing your teeth twice a day, or being nice to other people’s children.
But I have come to think there is also a more surprising answer to the question of whether line editing is good for writing, an answer that puts a more positive spin on things.
I find that line editing is not simply good for the short-term goal of finishing this infuriating, befuddling, ohmygodwhy piece of writing, it is also good for getting my writing flowing for future pieces. Going through my work meticulously has reminded me of all the fascinating little nuggets I put in there as I wrote the thesis over the last three years. I reacquainted myself with the singers and storytellers that my research focuses on, people like Jeanne Barrière known as Cérise, femme Roumégoux (b.1875). Cérise may have only provided one song for Arnaudin’s notes “in a field, for lack of time”, but she has always been special to me because of her nickname (or “nickame” as my thesis had it until five minutes ago). This came from the fact that her mother craved cherries when she was pregnant with Jeanne.
I also rediscovered some of the slightly revolting details of one of my favourite werewolf stories, which features a strange dog-man, who plagued a local household: “all evening they could hear it lick lick, lick lick, slobbering all over the trough”. The master of the house hatches a successful plan to trap the werewolf in a stable, then gloats over his captive: “Ah, you son of a bitch, Martignolles, you are here, and I’ve caught you, yes I’ve caught you.” He burns the beast’s face with a candle and lets it go. The next day he visits Martignolles to confirm his suspicions that he is the werewolf, and sure enough, Martignolle’s face is badly disfigured. Martignolles, the storyteller continued: “said that his woman burned his beard, and he had lied. ‘Ah no,’ said my poor old father, ‘You are nothing but a rotten werewolf.’”
I could list many more examples, which have sent me scurrying back to old Word documents to write hasty notes reminding myself to look into something again. These little nuggets – the licking, licking, the burnt face, the pregnant craving – put me back in touch with the bodily experiences that are at the heart of my research project. They stimulate me to re-write my plans for conference papers I am giving later in the year, for articles I plan to submit based on spin-offs from the thesis. They fired me up again, which is probably why I have written two blog posts in a week.
So yes, line editing IS good for writing, and perhaps more positive than I sometimes give it credit for.
Well, it’s either that, or I have reached previously unfathomed depths of procrastination… BACK TO THE APPENDICES