Approaching The Speed Of Editing

English: The famous red eye of HAL 9000

What do you think you’re doing, Steph? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I write fast. Everyone knows this. But I edit slow. Really slow. Like ‘plot advancement of an art house film’ slow. It takes forever.

That’s because editing uses a very different brain than writing. It’s more deliberate and precise, but it also burns out faster. Editing takes a lot of concentration, so have to do it in chunks of about half an hour, interspersed with something that doesn’t make my brain creak so much (i.e. writing). This is why I usually have different projects going on at the same time. For example, I’m breaking up the morning’s editing with this blog post. I edit until my timer goes off, take a break, then switch. And so on until I either finish or until the effort of cleaning the insides of all the story lightbulbs makes me snap.*

Oh, yes, the timer. I have one. I use the digital version of the Pomodoro Timer, mostly because it sits unobtrusively in my task bar and I don’t have to think about it.** Also, I find the 25 minutes on, five minutes off break down great for me. Five minutes is long enough to check Book of Faces and Twitter, walk around the room and stretch a bit, maybe get a coffee…but not so long that I lose touch with what I’m doing. I don’t usually use it for zero draft writing; it’s better to dump that mess out in one go. But for edits, and re-writes, I need a little more structure.

The net result of this is that a story that took me two and a half hours to pour out on the page in its initial form will take almost a week to edit into something worth reading.  I took it from a zero draft to a marginally readable one on Wednesday and Thursday, but there’s still more work to be done. Every draft gets a little cleaner, a little sharper, a little closer to the magical point of good enough.

And with luck, I’ll hit that point before the deadline.
*Some clarification may be needed: ‘Cleaning the insides of the lightbulb’ is household slang for ‘taking a task to the point of obsession’. I have lived with two people for whom this phrase was invented just for cleaning the house. It has it drawbacks, but the lightbulb are very clean.

**And the delightfully robotic voice sounds like I’m being told to take a break by HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Does This Draft Taste Fresh To You?

Pint of American beer

Crisp, with a lingering taste of adverbs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the ongoing quest to Win at Writing, I keep trying new methods. My brain is an experimental space. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a new draft form, inspired by this post by Joe Hill. I bookmarked it and then threw it into the giant junk drawer that is Evernote a while back, but found it again when I was looking for some ideas about rewriting. For those of you who can’t be arsed to click through, the link discusses a method of drafting used by Hill during his writing. The part that I’ve been using lately is mentioned here:

“With my third draft, everything is rewritten from scratch. No cutting-and-pasting, no editing on-screen. Every single chapter, paragraph, and sentence must prove its worth or die.”

God help me, I do love the idea of a word death-match.

I found this interesting, though. I’ve always edited the existing document. Or maybe a copy if I wasn’t feeling entirely certain about my changes. The snapshot feature on Scrivener is great for that. Never occurred to me to do it any other way. Isn’t it weird how that works?

Anyway, lately I’ve been splitting the screen into two documents, keeping the original on the bottom, and writing again as I edit. It’s slower, I can tell you that. But I think I’ve been turning out cleaner final drafts. No clutter that gets to stay in out of sheer laziness on my part. I have to want a line in a story bad enough to type it from scratch. You really consider how much you want to say something when you’re doing that.

Also, it makes my hands tired.

This is all good stuff, though. It makes me much less tolerant of my own bullshit. And, man, can I bullshit.

I’ll try this way for a while, see how it works out for me. But, if you haven’t clicked through yet, you should check out that article. There’s some interesting tips on drafts in there. Some of it might work for you. I’m all about the experiments. Stay tuned for more, or drop me a note in the comments about what you do. I might try it myself.

And, hey, Hill’s got a great line about writing: “I just want story. Story and a little music.”

Ain’t that the truth.