Thursday, January 26, 2012

(Self-)Editing and Efficiency

Is it possible to edit yourself efficiently? Yes, in the sense that you can make use of different self-editing methods to speed yourself up.

By efficiently, I mean that you can self-edit, producing a quality product in the least amount of time. Some commenters have mentioned that they use the "Let it sit" technique.

While that's a good one, that technique caters to letting you do whichever type of editing you're best at: big picture or little picture. (Remember my post on the two main types of editors?) It doesn't necessarily do you the most good for the other one.

On the whole, all stories will need a "big picture" check and a "little picture" check. Some folks spew words on paper and check both afterwards. Some labor over an outline to make sure the overarching story will even work before they start the prose. Some edit as they write the story (*raises hand*).

Here's the thing. On a purely objective level, you might expect it to be most efficient to start out outlining (to check the big picture), spewing everything out on the page (because you can't fix what's not on the page—well, sort of), and then polishing everything up.

But everyone's wired differently. That method is only efficient for some people.

Some folks, those of us who are naturally best at spotting the "little picture," actually work best by cleaning up the "little picture" first, because even if that means we "waste" time polishing text that'll be tossed, it saves time by making us able to see beyond the misused commas to fully process the content beneath.

Can such a "little picture" editor get better at seeing the content beneath the grammar errors? Yes. But that requires the "little picture" editor to practice "big picture" editing, so it becomes more natural.

Hey, I've never said this learning to self-edit thing was easy or quick.

So the most efficient editing method for you might not be be what you'd expect to be efficient.

Personal example: It's mentally impossible for me to use an outline as a fluid structural guideline.

Folks talk about using the outline as a rough idea, something to be changed as the story goes, but it is practically impossible for me to rearrange a standard alphanumeric outline, even when it's on the computer screen.

The reason? As soon as everything's organized with numbers and letters, I cannot visualize it any other way. It's like permanent brain freeze.

It gave me a ton of trouble in school when teachers would demand I provide one of those alphanumeric outlines before I wrote a paper. I can sometimes manipulate a topical outline, but a sentence outline? Forget it.

Let's just say I learned to write the paper's rough draft before I wrote the outline. *twiddles thumbs* My teachers who found out weren't happy about it. So, for classes where my grade would've been docked if I'd written the paper first, I would create and reorganize a bulleted list, which I'd then modify into an alphanumeric outline to turn in to the teacher, looking at it for as short a time as possible.

I suspect it's my learning style. Most visual learners are polychromatic from pictures. In other words, color, pictures, and their own handwriting all help them.

I'm monochromatic from typed words. In other words, I struggle to read handwriting (even my own), a good way to get me to not notice something is to highlight it and not tell me there's color on the page, and pictures are difficult for me to process. (Then again, my lack of depth perception might contribute to that last one.) If I don't think to check for anything other than black text on a white background, I actually won't see that alternatively-colored text.

I include that personal story as a case in point: alphanumeric sentence outlines are efficient for some people. Not everyone.

So when you approach self-editing (or even editing in general), remember: what's efficient for you might not be intuitive, or even what's efficient for whatever author(s) you personally look up to.

Do you have any fun personal stories about an "efficient" technique being incredibly inefficient for you? Care to share?


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