finishing off is hard to do ( for me anyway)

I’m a knitter. I really like the knitting part of knitting. But I’m much less enamoured of the finishing off stage. I currently have two cardigans needing their buttons sewn on. Mmmmm …I’ll do them, I really will, just not now. There are new projects to start. I like the starting off, seeing the knitting develop and grow.


I feel much the same way about books. I like starting them. I enjoy writing them. I don’t even mind revising them. And I love sending them off. 

It always seems as if sending the manuscript in ought to be the end. But no, then the copy edit queries come back. 

You deal with the queries. So maybe this is it. Now, the end. You’ve written the book. You can celebrate.

But no, wait there’s more. Then come the proofs. Getting the proofs is really pleasurable of course, because you can now see a real book. It’s happened. It’s a book. Yay.

But, sigh. Then you have to read it all again, carefully. You have to fix the klutzy sentences – without adding any additional lines because that mucks up the pagination. You need to get rid of those inadvertent word repetitions that you somehow missed. You must find all of the places where there is slighty dodgy grammar.

And you find production mistakes too – things that weren’t in your original manuscript but now appear… new minor calamities. Indents in the wrong places. Peculiar headings. Odd layout of tables. Images that are almost impossible to decipher. And the proof generally comes in the latest PDF format. The one you don’t have, your university doesn’t have and which costs and arm and a leg to buy. So you print it all out, exhausting your printer ink and paper supply and work on the hard copy. But not so bad because I still find hard copy easier than working on screen for this fine grained, pernickety correction stage.

But you deal with all of that and send the thing back. Now it’s done… It’s over right?

Well, if you are doing the appendix yourself, no. It’s still not done. You have to do that too and send it back. So now you’re done. Book finalised… Just the marketing survey and the back cover blurb and maybe the cover to deal with…

NO. NOOOOOO. It’s back again. Just at the most inconvenient time too. You have a week to turn the manuscript around this time. And you find even more typos. More dodgy grammar. More weird typesettings. And what wrong with those references? How come you didn’t see all of these inconsistencies before?

Finally done. Relief. And it is wonderful to get the new book in your hand. Yes, now it’s here. At last. You can celebrate. 

You open up the shiny new book at a random page, and see the error that you didn’t spot in any of those editing and proofing sessions. Appalling. You hastily shut the book and pretend it isn’t there. But you know, you know it is. *facepalm*

Am I exaggerating? Not at all. I have recently had a book manuscript come back four times, rather than the more usual two. When the manuscript kept coming back I really thought I would give in to my desire to give up and leave it be. Send it back pretending that I’d checked and saw nothing. It took all of my willpower to try to finish off. But I did. 

And now? It is the cleanest of my books and I am actually really grateful to the publishers for allowing me and their professional proof reader to keep at it. But I still found a stray typo! 

Maybe next time I’ll get the lot. 

I need to remember the book experience as I head back to the knitting. Buttons don’t sew themselves on. Ends don’t weave themselves in. Hard work, and maybe not what you really want to do right then. But it’s all worth it in the end, eh… as long as you pick up all of the errors. 

Note to self, must do better next time. 

No loose ends. No loose ends. No loose ends.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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5 Responses to finishing off is hard to do ( for me anyway)

  1. Jeanne de Montbaston says:

    On the plus side, it is immeasurably comforting to open your external examiner’s book, after he has conscientiously, patiently and helpfully guided you through thesis corrections, to discover a typo in the opening pages. So maybe the function of the stubborn errors in the book is to reassure your poor students that you are human after all?


  2. Ciaran Sugrue says:

    While I don’t do the knitting, Pat, I really enjoyed reading this installment, and, no, you are correct, you’re not exaggerating! Thanks.


  3. aegunnulfsen says:

    Dear Pat Thomson,

    I hope you are well!

    We met in Naples this summer, and I had the pleasure to hear your presentation.

    I also read your blog-posts with great pleasure every week, and I am impressed with your writing about writing.

    It really helps me a lot!

    I have a Norwegian blog, and my thoughts about writing has not really got the same amount of readers as yours.

    If any at all.. 😉

    Any way: I have some thoughts about something (a thing) that really have been helping me out the first two years of my PhD-work. I know that you have been writing about the use of digital devices. This is a story of one of them in particular. May be something you can write about/use sometime? Feel free 🙂

    The winter has arrived in Norway (Oslo) and we have lots of snow and minus 5 celcius.

    All the best

    Ann Elisabeth Gunnulfsen


    Dep of Teacher Education and School Research

    Faculty of Education

    University of Oslo



  4. Pingback: why tinker with your text? | patter

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