I can’t remember the first time I received proofs of a piece of mine that was going to be published (in actual print!), but I do remember that for at least the first few years of my publishing career I did so with a kind of elation. I suspect every young writer feels that way—these are my words, and they will look something like this when they're actually there on the page for people to read!
It’s been about twenty years or so since I began publishing more or less regularly, and the joy and wonder at receiving proofs has long ago worn off. I think it began to wear off rather rapidly when I was in the process of publishing Upper Limit Music, and fell into a series of conflicts with an officious and rather thick copy editor, conflicts which led me on several occasions to angry phone calls to the Press’s managing editor—going over her head, as it were. That was my worst experience with copy editing, and since then I’ve gone through quite a lot of different editorial hands, ranging from the general hands-off if there’s a problem we hope you’ll catch it of the little magazines, to the roots-to-branch evisceration and sometimes rewriting of Parnassus: Poetry in Review.
I’m old enough to miss paper proofs, I confess; when I receive page proofs in PDF, I very often print them out, even if I see no errors when I read them over on the screen. I’m not sure I end up catching more errors that way, but it’s just somehow more comfortable, it gives me a surer sense that this particular piece is for real. But truth to tell, I’ve gotten to where I do some of my proofing—for briefer pieces, especially—on the screen alone. I too, like all of us, are being gradually weaned of my paper addiction.
These days, when I’m publishing between a half dozen and a dozen pieces every year, it seems like there’s always something in some stage of needing looking at. Of course, there is the next piece to be written, or in the middle of being written; but more irritatingly, there are all those pieces that have been sent off, and need second-round attention: the (electronically) blue-pencilled drafts, the copy edited manuscripts, full of queries that need to be carefully checked (these are perhaps the most irritating, as they often necessitate pulling books down or heading over to Google Books to check quotations), the sets of proofs to be read.
I’m well aware of the necessity of it all, that my prose and my arguments have often been mightily improved by careful editing, that copy editors have often drawn my attention to really bone-headed errors and omissions, and that carefully reading proof is the best way to avoid looking like an idiot when a piece actually comes out in print. That doesn’t, however, make these secondary tasks any less arduous or tiresome. Or at least that’s how I feel some of the time. At other times—like right now, when I’m going over the copy edited manuscript for a piece for the Cambridge History of American Poetry, and not coincidentally avoiding grading a stack of papers—I can take a positive delight in publication as a social process: something that I’d be entirely missing if my prose were going straight to its readers.
(NB: connect this to Michael Moorcock’s early career, when he was writing, as he puts it somewhere, not “for an editor but for a printer.” Cautionary tale.)