Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eat that Elephant: Edit Effectively

Okay, so I stole the analogy from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, but I don't think they'll mind. "Eat the elephant" comes from a question: "How do you eat an elephant?"

If you look at the elephant carcass, you'll get overwhelmed. You'll think—no, you'll know—that it'll take forever and God only knows when you'll finish it.

And while you dither over how gargantuan your elephant is, your neighbor is quietly finishing hers.

It's the basic concept of breaking things down into manageable chunks. If you look at too much at once, you'll be overwhelmed and the task will take far longer than necessary. (Yes, I omitted that comma before the conjunction on purpose.)

So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Different folks have different-sized mouths, too, so chunks that are "bite-sized" for one person might choke someone else. The issue is knowing yourself and how much you can handle at a time. And being flexible when something happens that sabotages what you can handle. Bending with the problems rather than breaking under them.

You might be asking, "What does project planning have to do with editing effectively?"


As of this writing, I have several writing projects on the to-do list. A novelette to finish writing for a December 31st deadline, but I've been editing as I go so it'll only need a proofread. A final 10k words or so to write in A Fistful of Earth, which will then need a heavy coherence edit, because I changed my mind about some things while writing scenes but didn't go back to make it all fit.

And Jami Gold is hosting a pitch session on her blog that I think a particular novelette of mine would fit well—if I can finish it by January 10th.

Oh, and I got asked by an anthology for a story. No deadline, but I'd like to be prompt about submitting something.

And remember, my day job is writing, editing, and proofreading for clients. So easy to get overwhelmed, to go "Ulgh! I've already edited 20k words today! I'm done!"

Editing is insidious. It has a way of taking longer than you planned—and of making you think that's okay, when it's only taking so long because you're letting the size of the task ahead of you overwhelm you and slow you down.

To edit effectively, you break your task down into chunks. Get it done one bite at a time.

That might mean one type of editing at a time. That might mean one scene or chapter at a time. That might mean one task at a time—like reading through to evaluate what it needs, then making the plot connect, then the characters, etc. It all depends on you, how you think, work, write.

And different stories will need different things.

I often edit as I go. When that doesn't work for me, I like breaking it down with Holly Lisle's notecard method, except instead of colored notecards, I use white ones. Then I color-code the top edge to indicate if a scene's good, needs some work, needs a lot of work, or needs tossing. (I'll describe this process further in a later post.)

But this is me, how I work. Not everybody can write content and critically evaluate it at the same time—and even then, I draft faster if I drop the critical mode. But I'm capable of pulling off an "average" pace of 1k words per hour with critical mode on, so I don't often bother to turn that side off.

And not everybody's comfortable tackling content edits, line edits, copyedits, and proofreading at the selfsame time. Even though I'm practiced at it, I'm not always comfortable with it. When that happens, I make sure to break it up ASAP, so I don't waste too much time dithering over how much I have to do. (A Fistful of Earth will probably need such breaking down.)

How do you usually break down your editing?


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