Proofs are a funny thing.
I mentioned earlier this week that I got the proofs from the Writers of the Future. And as I was going through them I noted places where, if I had the chance to do so, I would changed things. Nothing major, mind you, but certain word choices, turns of phrase, the emphasis or implication of a sentence here and there, etc.
While I’m very glad I get the chance to go over proofs and look for errors, in some ways it would be easier if I didn’t. The lead-time between the sale of a story and its publication tends to the months, if not a year or more (in the case of WOTF, I submitted the story in April 2006, it won in October 2006, and will be published in September 2007) and your skills as a writer (hopefully) improve during the interval.
So, in essence, when you get proofs you’re reading writing that, at least in some small ways, you could do better if you did now. The temptation to edit, rewrite, and polish (or in my case, Polish 😉 forever is hard to resist.
But you have to. Resist it, I mean. I know from personal experience as an editor that making changes in proofs (other than correcting simple errors) gets very expensive for the publisher very quickly. We’ve even added a clause to our contract to discourage changes in proofs, charging authors a hefty per-change charge levied against their royalties.
Somebody once said that art is never finished, it is abandoned. My guess is that it is abandoned only grudgingly…