The Dreaded First Edit: Part 1

On January 27, 2017, I entered into an “Agreement Between Publisher and Author . . . Whereas the Parties are desirous respectively of publishing a work provisionally entitled The Precariousness of Done (the “Work”), which title may be changed only by mutual consent.”

The agreement is 24 pages long.

Page 24 contains a “TENTATIVE PUBLISHING SCHEDULE,” which “depends on the extent of editorial revisions/corrections, and publisher’s, author’s and printer’s schedules. The following dates are based on a publishing agreement finalized by February 5, 2017:

First Edited Proof: March/April 2017
Final Edited Proof: March/April 2017
1st Interior Design Proof: April/May 2017
Final Interior Design Proof: May/June 2017
First Cover Versions: June/July 2017
Final Cover Proof: June/July 2017
Book to Press: July/August 2017
Printer’s Proofs: July/August 2017
Books Shipped: July/August 2017
Limited Release: July/August 2017
Public Release: Fall 2017

(Limited release is the date copies of your book are available to you, as well as available for preorder from [name omitted], amazon.com and bn.com. Public release is the date your book ships and is available for order from brick and mortar chain stores. Public release is generally scheduled two to three months after copies are received because it takes a number of weeks for your book to be reviewed by Barnes and Noble and other buyers, and additional time for your book to appear in buyer databases.)”

The first task to be completed on that tentative schedule began simply, with this email from my publisher:

“March 23, 2017

Dear Tony:

I am attaching the 1st EDITED PROOF of Precariousness for your review. We have edited the manuscript for grammar, mechanics, usage, and general content. We have used Microsoft Word Track Changes feature for this edit. In case you are unfamiliar with this feature, I have attached instructions on how to use it. Please note that we have not included the “clean” file mentioned in the instructions, but I’ll be happy to send one if you prefer. Some authors who aren’t familiar with tracking find the clean file easier to work with. Just let me know.

It is important that you read the instructions about the Track Changes feature before you begin responding to the edit.

Do not be concerned with spacing between paragraphs or other formatting elements at this stage. We will address formatting, indentation, margins, and other design elements at the design stage.

SPECIAL NOTES: None at this time.

IT IS CRITICAL that you work with the attached file in Microsoft Word, not with your original manuscript file or any other file. If you work with a previous or another file, we will have to edit the manuscript from scratch, and there may be delays and more production costs.

When your review is complete, please email the proof to me at your earliest convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call me at [phone number omitted]. Thank you!

Very truly yours,

[name omitted].”

When I opened the attached file, simple flew out the window and then straight to hell: Microsoft Word Track Changes feature is a visual nightmare for this severe obsessive-compulsive author–changing, checking, rechecking, re-rechecking. Accepting or rejecting my editor’s changes are another matter, for another post.

The instructions about the Track Changes feature got me started; the suggestions from those who have used it–thank you Adam and Noah–let me chew through the edit and make peace with it. An uneasy truce: other proofs (scary, final ones) will be coming.

If you’re a writer who is starting the process I am well into, and you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

If you’re an obsessive-compulsive who is struggling every day as I am, I’m here for you, too.

Welcome to the blog of Tony Houck…

…and I thank you for visiting. Stay a while. Browse. Read. Smile. Scratch your head or shake it. Comment. Follow.

I’m introverted and hesitant to ramble or waste your time.

In that spirit, let me quickly explain that unsalted gems is a term used at family-friendly gem mines, that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, that I am addicted to the language and culture of Spain, and that the purpose of this blog is to inform and entertain my readers. To them, I extend a sincere invitation to provide feedback and share their stories.

My Story, which further discusses unsalted gems, OCD, etc., is available for those who wish to read it. I leave that decision up to you.

As an obsessive-compulsive who is embarrassed by his disorder, and not a person who gravitates toward self-aggrandizing tendencies, I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone for my first post. Although it’s an excerpt from my unpublished novel, which is not a memoir, the passage is short on meism but long on insight into the world of an obsessive-compulsive. OCD manifests itself in different ways, of course, but what follows is a place to start….

 

CHAPTER SIX

07:43 h

      A bottled gas delivery truck clanged past the open window, but Thomas was already awake. Staring at the clock he had watched throughout the night, he sat hunched on the side of the bed, his forearm resting on the nightstand. He dared not move the travel alarm, so he pinched it lightly between his index finger and thumbnail, which quivered over a small button split into half-moons marked ALARM and SET.

07:45 h

      Thomas took a shallow breath, held it, and pressed the button before the alarm could ring for the fifth time. Five would have been bad: It wasn’t one of his numbers. After letting the echo fade, he pressed the button again and then stared at the display, holding his breath again. “It’s there,” he whispered.
      “It” was a little bell above the colon that indicated the alarm was turned on. A lingering touch—he had a proclivity for lingering touches—could have turned it off altogether, but his nail had been quick. He exhaled. The alarm was ready for tomorrow morning, and it was important that it was…irrationally important, anxiety-provokingly important. He lifted his elbow off the nightstand and sat back. “It’s done.”
      But no amount of physical distance could have taken his mind off that bell or prevented his daily battle with “it,” as even a master of self-control is helpless against spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm. He leaned forward. “It’s there.”
      It was there. He clearly saw it and the speck of dust on it, but couldn’t take his eyes off it. He tried to lean back. “It’s done…It’s there— It isn’t.” He sighed and checked it again. The thoughts became reflexes.
      “I see it…It’s right there.” He leaned back, but before his spine could straighten, he threw himself forward. “Damn. Last time,” he promised emptily with all his heart and rechecked it.
      In the distance a driver laid on the horn, but Thomas was already beyond the tipping point again. “Not there. Damn it, shit, hell. Last time, I promise.” He re-rechecked it, but was soon lost in the bell once again.
      “It’s there— No, I see it. Fight it. It’s not, check it later…I might forget. Last time, I promise.” He re-rechecked it again, raised his eyes to heaven, and then smacked himself on the head. At that moment, he wasn’t sure whom he hated more. “Guaranteed done, no matter what. I promise.”
      There was no way in hell he was done.
      “You’re not getting anything else from me— I promise just one last time.” He checked it, but he wasn’t really seeing at it anymore. Something similar to the difference between hearing and listening.

07:47 h

      “It’s there, it’s there, it’s there, it’s there,” Thomas insisted, desperate for the relief that often came with repetition in fours. He could have afforded to change his ticket if he had 1 € (about $1.30) for each time he’d repeated something four times in September alone.
      He had other “lucky” numbers of course, but in eights, fifteens, seventeens, twenty-twos, thirty-ones, thirty-sevens, fifty-ones, fifty-sevens, and seventy-sevens things took quite a while longer, and he had to get going. No, four usually did the trick. Besides, the higher numbers were better suited for such things as turning off headlights, wiping down the bathtub, blowing dust off the television, walking across a room, and closing bottles. He could have stayed in Las Rozas forever if he had 1 € for each time he had mashed the refrigerator handle.
      He took several deep breaths, trying to reset the brain that wasn’t getting the message.

      —Why? is a question answered only by theories about the cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
      Many researchers attribute the disorder to biological abnormalities. Perhaps the neurochemical serotonin can’t transmit its message to neighboring nerve cells because the receptors on those neurons are faulty, resulting in the reuptake of serotonin. Maybe the part of the brain that initiates certain actions lacks a specific protein. Possibly a prior immune response to the streptococcus bacteria produced offending antibodies. These are but three possibilities.
      Advocates of a psychological cause suggest that OCD sufferers repeatedly wash their hands, check locked doors, etc., to relieve anxiety provoked by illogical doubts and fears that intrude into their thought processes, and though the anxiety re-emerges, they associate short-lived relief with the washing, checking, etc., negatively reinforcing those actions. The cycle repeats, encouraging the obsessions and compulsions, although sufferers take no pleasure in them, and the disorder intensifies.
      Whether abnormal biology, psychology, or, more likely, a combination of the two is to blame, the many forms of OCD make it one of the more prevalent mental disorders in the United States, afflicting millions, and many more have never been formally diagnosed.

07:48 h

      Thomas wiped the “pollution” off his finger and wagged the tip of it across the display, playing peekaboo with the bell. “There, not there. There, not there.”
      Muttering stares were often just fists to the chest, but taps and rubs could be like paddles to a fibrillating heart and restore normal rhythm to his dwelling brain; for Thomas, abnormal was normal. The additional stimuli helped curb his anxiety, so he relied heavily on the sense of touch during his private struggles, but in public the behaviors drew embarrassing looks, so he disguised them.
      When tapping and rubbing didn’t provide the necessary relief, the situation worsened still, and he was often forced into momentary, even persistent surrender. But if he was playing beat the clock or if the task was especially difficult, he resorted to more severe behaviors to increase the stimulus. Metal zipper pulls were tugged so hard they bent. Plastic caps were tightened until they bulged at the sides; often they were so tight that he had to open them with pliers. The violent rattling of the side door used to shake and wake the house.
      Thomas was incredibly sorry about breaking the doorknob.

07:49 h

      “It’s there.”
      The next few moments were critical, so Thomas sat breathless, motionless, fearing the unexpected, even the rumble of his stomach.

07:50 h

      On to the bracelet, the shirt tag, the drawstring in the pajama pants, in that order. In that order.
      The day had just begun.
      He was exhausted.