A Note on the Typos

Can I haz spellcheck?

Originally uploaded by arnoldziffel2007

I have never been a good proofreader. This has been true since I was a kid in grade school. My teachers used to get so angry with me over it and I admit, as a professor myself, I sometimes get personally offended when students hand in work that is full of typos, and other goofs. However, I have since come to the conclusion that a lack of proofreading isn’t always a lack of respect for the project.

Sometimes people don’t proofread because they can’t stand to read their own work. It’s like listening to your own voice on a tape recording. There is also the fear that you will read over the story closely and find out that it’s terrible and then what would you do? The story is due? So you just print it out and turn it in.

Insecurity manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some people’s insecurity makes them perfectionists. They sweat every little details for fear that one typo or error will somehow invalidate all of their hard work or cause people to mock them. These folks may hang onto a manuscript way longer than they should have for fear that it’s not perfect.

Because I am not a good proofer, I hired someone to proof my manuscript before I submitted it to publishers. ($600. More than mere chump change.)Imagine my dismay when I made a mistake with MS Word and accidentally left a few “notes” in the margin! I think one said, [Should I double space here?]

I called all my friends hoping that one of them would say, “That doesn’t matter. No one is going to disqualify your manuscript because of that little mistake.” Rather, almost everyone said, “Oh no! Can you get the manuscript back?!?!?! Certainly there is something you can do!!!!!” I was really freaking out about it. I felt as though a few little margin notes from a professional proofreader would somehow undermine the five years of work I had done on this book.

Finally, I called my agent who wasn’t all that upset. “That’s too bad,” she said. “But we’re not going to worry about it.” I called my publicist. “How about you act like you never even noticed. It’s not a big deal.”

The difference in the reactions is that my agent and my publicist are professionals, not artists. They don’t have the same insecurities. They had distance and promised me that no one was going to say, “I reject this manuscript because the professional proofer asked about double-spacing on page 104!”.

The other day, at Greenlight Books, Tiphanie Yanique told us about a story that had been chosen as a prize-winner by Junot Diaz. She said he contacted her and said, “I am about to choose your story as a winner, but you really need to clean up these typos! This is ridiculous.” Everyone laughed, because everyone loves a happy ending. Tiphanie is a great writer. Of course Junot would see it despite some carelessness.

I guess the obvious lesson is that you don’t want to turn in a manuscript full of errors. But at the same time, you don’t want to be too obsessive about the details either. When I met with my editor for the first time, I sheepishly mentioned those margin notes, and she didn’t even know what I was talking about.

Posted in Writing | 7 Comments

Busy Busy Busy Links

Y’all, my schedule is killing me! Since I last blogged I have done a classroom visit at Dream Yarp Prep in The Bronx. I read about a half dozen student manuscripts. I drafted a book review, wrote and delivered a “talkshop” at the National Black Writers Conference. (This was quite a highlight of a really hectic week.) AND, I used a curling iron to put about 400 spirals in my hair. And to top it all off, I was at work at 7 am, where I remain, dear reader, to this moment. But before I head off to the next task, let me fill you in on what’s cool on the itnernet today.

  • Opportunity alert: Scholarships for the 2011 Key West Literary Seminars.
  • Congratulations to Tina Chang, Poet Laureate of Brooklyn.
  • I am so glad that I decided NOT to title my novel, The Bigamist’s Daughters.
  • “Top Ten” black authors on twitter.
  • I never knew Annie John was out of print, but I am glad to see that it’s back.
  • Maud Newton decodes Sarah Palin. (Deep, y’all.)
  • My ultra classy publicist.
  • What do you use your journal for?
  • Sarah loves the sentences on Walter Mosley.
  • Book review BINGO. (Can also be used as a drinking game.)
  • If you have these words in your manuscript, scratch them out.
  • White Teeth on video.
  • The Saudi version of American Idol features poets, not singers.
  • Posted in Links | Comments Off on Busy Busy Busy Links

    Deadline Alert: VONA

    Monday, April 5 is the deadline to apply to Voices, the exciting summer workshops for writers of color held at The University of San Francisco.
    I’ll be teaching a one week fiction course from June 20-26. Other faculty members include Mat Johnson, Chris Abani, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Suheir Hammad, David Mura, Tannarive Due, Elmaz Abinader, M. Evelina Galang, Ruth Forman, and more! You can visit the website for more information.
    And, also, check out this guest post by LeConte Dill and Terri Elam about their amazing experience attending the workshops, “VONA Saved My Life.”

    Posted in The Writing Life | Comments Off on Deadline Alert: VONA

    Lots Going On

    This rest of this week is going to be crazy intense for me, but there is a lot of really cool stuff going on, so let me post a quick bulletin before I run to work (where I will be treated to back-to-back meetings. Ugh. I thought I was suppossed to be an artist or something.)
    THURSDAY-SUNDAY: National Black Writers Conference. Super-sexy line-up including **swoon** Toni Morrison, but also Dolen Perkins Valdez, Bernice MacFadden, Victor LaValle, Colson Whitehead, and me! The NYT did a really cool profile of the conference. Please check it out and leave a comment. The comments that are posted are pretty, well, disturbing.
    FRIDAY: Girls Write Now Chapters Reading Series, featuring Nami Mun. I am crazy about Nami. Miles from Nowhere is a heck of a debut. And all of your know how I feel about our amazing teen writers. The event is free. The event is cool. So come on out. 6pm, The Center For Fiction, 17 East 47nd Street. NYC
    SATURDAY: Girls Write Now Day at Eileen Fisher. Gussy up for the cause! 20% of all purchases in NYC will go to GWN!

    Posted in The Writing Life | 3 Comments

    Onward, indeed!

    About three years ago, Aletha Spann, an ambitious young filmmaker Leaving Atlantaoptioned the movie rights to my first novel, Leaving Atlanta. This was pretty exciting but I understood (and still understand) that an option is but one small baby step to actually have a movie on the screen. But still, it’s a pretty thrilling to think about.
    Still, it’s a thrillling thing to think about that I hadn’t thought about in quite some time. So just imagine my shock yesterday morning when I got a message from twitter that @LeavingATLmovie was following my feed. And when I clicked, this is what I saw:

    @LeavingATLmovie: we’re auditioning Los Angeles African-American boys and girls ages 9-13…see our posting at LA Casting

    This, of course, led to me checking out the website for the movie, which is pretty fabulous. It’s still early in the game. She can’t film the trailer til she gets the actors in place, but I am very very pleased with what I have seen so far.
    This morning, I woke up and checked the twitter feed again.

    @LeavingATLmovie: Today’s been crazy. With the announcement of castings we, have been going through a deluge of submissions. Onward!

    Onward, indeed!

    Posted in Leaving Atlanta Film | 3 Comments

    Thanking Ai

    This weekend,the poet Ai passed away. She is remembered here by another poet whose life she changed forever.
    Thanking Ai
    A Remembrance by Rigoberto González
    I have a votive candle next to my bed. The only time I take a match to the wick is when I feel a particularly devastating poet loss. Just a few weeks ago, it held a flame in honor of Lucille Clifton. Just a few days ago, a flame for Ai.
    It feels selfish to claim the poet Ai, but I have much to be grateful for: she was the one who selected my first book for the National Poetry Series back in 1998. This prize is a luck of the draw. A poet sends his manuscript to the contest hoping that it lands on the desk of the one of four judges who might be more sympathetic to his work. I was fortunate that Ai, who was also one of my inspirations, was drawn to the pages of a manuscript that opens with a piece titled “The Slaughterhouse.”
    Not long after I was informed that I had won, I moved to NYC. And shortly after, I met a woman who worked at Norton, who gave me a picture of Ai sitting on a suitcase, a Native American blanket behind her. She’s embracing a pair of cow-skinned boots and holding up a pair of slippers with her other hand. As the Norton gal handed me the photo, she said, “Here’s your champion.”

    Continue reading

    Posted in Current Events | 1 Comment

    Woman To Man

    by Ai

    Woman to Man
    Lightning hits the roof,
    shoves the knife, darkness,
    deep in the walls.
    They bleed light all over us
    and your face, the fan, folds up,
    so I won’t see how afraid
    to be with me you are.
    We don’t mix, even in bed,
    where we keep ending up.
    There’s no need to hide it:
    you’re snow, I’m coal,
    I’ve got the scars to prove it.
    But open your mouth,
    I’ll give you a taste of black
    you won’t forget.
    For a while, I’ll let it make you strong,
    make your heart lion,
    then I’ll take it back.

    Posted in Bookshelf | Comments Off on Woman To Man

    Workcrastination, Again.

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about my arch enemy WORKCRASTINATION. (This is when you avoid your writing by doing other work. You don’t feel guilty like you do when you waste your weekend watching Law & Order, but you still haven’t written your book.) Well, I am revisiting the subject.
    Networking and other marketing concerns are particularly slick forms of workcrastination. It’s very easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are making progress on your book because you are going to this and that conference where you got to meet a certain famous author (OMG she gave me her card!!), etc. You tell yourself that publishing is all about who you know, so this is all very positive. It’s taking your career into your own hands. And, since you don’t have access to an Old Boys Club, you have to hustle harder. And maybe you should order up a new set of cards now that you think about it. And what about your website, your blog?
    You get the idea.
    Cut it out. It’s workcrastination. Working for the book is not the same as working on the book.
    Working on marketing and networking is easier than finishing your book– especially once you have reached that 100 page mark and you feel like you are trying to bathe an octopus. Endlessly researching agents and scouring Publisher’s Marketplace is a lot easier than figuring out what’s hanging you up emotionally and keeping you from being able to develop your characters. And who wouldn’t rather drink a Bellini at an awards ceremony than read your entire manuscript aloud to check for pacing problems? And anything you do in a party dress is more exciting than sitting at your kitchen table in your robe, struggling to get your heart on the page.
    You know what you need to do. Just do it. Sit down, get quiet. Write your book. No one can do it but you. No one you meet at a cocktail party can write your book for you. Even if you were to save Oprah from a burning building, in all her billionaire gratitude, she couldn’t help you write your book. It’s all up to you. Don’t let yourself down.

    Posted in Writing | 6 Comments

    Let’s Hang Out Brooklyn

    Brooklyn Public Library

    Originally uploaded by wallyg

    On Sunday, March 21, at 1:30 I will be giving a reading and chat at the Brooklyn Public Library– central location (Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway). I hope that you can come out and say hello! I’ll read from my novels, and then take Q&A about whatever you want to Q&A about. The weather man is promising a pretty day, but right after the reading, you can head to the park. :)

    (P.S. Click on the photo to see a lot of cool facts about the beautiful library building.)

    Posted in Book Tour | Comments Off on Let’s Hang Out Brooklyn

    Spinning Around and Around Links


  • A lovely audio of Natasha reading in Key West. Toward the end of the recording she shares her intense new poems.

  • The Orange Prize long list is announced. Congrats to Laila Lalami!
  • Free audio books. (But let me warn you– you get what you pay for.)
  • Larry Flynt’s crazy book proposal.
  • Congratulations to the Lambda finalists.
  • Think you’re too artistic to have a day job? Well even Faulkner punched a clock.
  • Bernice MacFadden on telling our own stories.
  • Learn Italian, French or Spanish in ten weeks at Idlewild Books!
  • The making of a book cover.
  • How agents negotiate a contract.
  • Thank goodness Romeo couldn’t txt Juliette.
  • Quote of the day: ‘The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.’ – John LeCarre
  • Mayumi hearts Tiphanie Yanique.
  • How did I miss this? Elizabeth Alexander’s gorgeous and weighty rembrance of Lucille Clifton.
  • Marie Mockett says to book reviewers, new writers need love too.
  • Posted in Links | Comments Off on Spinning Around and Around Links