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.