Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Multitasking vs One thing at a time

I read somewhere recently that few of us actually multitask very well, in spite of the fact most of us think we do. I also heard that what little ability we have to multitask gets worse as we age, and that scares me.

Why have I been thinking about this? Actually, it was Sinead's last post about writing faster (and my recent snails pace of finished product production). My snail's pace is due to the frustrating time I've been having doing final revisions on my latest opus.

I've always been a multi-tasking kind of person. At least that's how I think of myself. But I'm realizing (either because of age or wisdom or both) that maybe I'd be more effective if I forced my ADD underground and focused on one thing at a time.

And I don't mean doing multiple books at once. I've stopped projects mid-way to start others... but I've never been a write-two-books-at-once kind of gal. I wish. I mean, dealing with one stage of revisions/editing at a time.

Once a book is sold to a publisher, it goes through a few very distinct kinds of edits. Here's how I understand it:

The first is revisions. Which, for popular fiction at least, is mostly about changes to the story. Making sure it's as tight and strong as possible. Depending on the book and the editor, this may go through a few rounds. (Have you ever heard Lisa Garner talk about her revisions for The Perfect Husband?)

Then there are line edits. This is where the words become the issue. The prose. Are there repeating words or phrases, overuse of adverbs or adjectives, repetitive sentence structures. That kind of thing. (I understand depending on the editor, and the extent of revisions needed, these two stages are sometimes combined. I also understand that with more "literary" novels this stage is more rigorous. Fine. I heard one story about an authors and her editor arguing over the choice of one particular word for a few weeks. Lucky publishers have popular fiction to help pay for that kind of anal-retentiveness.)

Then, only then, does it go to the copy editor who worries about continuity and fact checking and punctuation and grammar and do the heroine's eyes change color on page 243.

This is how I understand the process to work, anyway.

So, I'm thinking. Why the hell do I make myself crazy trying to combine all those different kinds of edits into one set of revisions myself? Why do I worry about all of these things on each pass through my manuscript? Why am I fussing over the exact wording of a paragraph until I'm absolutely positive the overall story is working? Do I like wasting time? Making extra work for myself? Subsequently cutting huge swaths of prose I'd tinkered with until I loved it? Am I that worried about my CP's opinion of me that I can only show them stuff I think's nearly finished?

I'm not sure why I never tried to apply this multi-step approach to revisions to my writing process.

And even if I hadn't made the connection earlier, I could have taken a lesson from my CP, friend and fellow drunk writer, Molly, who never cares about line edit things when she's just trying to get the story right.

I've learned to (mostly) ignore grammar and repeated words and poor punctuation in Molly's early drafts, but I'm seriously just realizing now how friggin smart she is. (I knew she was smart about lots of things, just not this.)
What I now realize is how much time I waste trying to polish my work before I show it to my CP's for that initial "does this story work" critique. Or even before I make my own assessment of my story.

Damn, damn, damn.

Can you edit your work for just one thing? Can you ignore the wording and just worry about the story? Or do you multi-task-edit, too?

7 comments:

Molly O'Keefe said...

Hah! Yes - you are right -- THAT'S why I ignore those things. It's because I am so smart I don't know what to do with a comma.

That said -- worrying about those things while trying to worry about the big things would make you crazy. That's two different sides of your brain isn't it? And the way I heard it - trying to use both sides of your brain at the same time causes internal bleeds.

Great post Maureen - that is how the house that I work with does it and even more insane - different people do all those different edits most of the time - crazy huh.

Maureen McGowan said...

Brain bleeding... Call 911....

Sinead M said...

Smart post, it's true, most people's brains can only handle so much at any one time.
Hell, mine can barely put words together coherently today.
You're right, line editing is for when the overall story is working..

That said, I suck at that part..really awful.. hate line editing and half the time ignore it..

Christine d'Abo said...

I ignore everything except the story itself in the first draft...and second draft. Then I'll go back and do line edits. If I don't write that way I'd never get through the story.

Kristin said...

Hey! I'm so glad I found this blog. The topics you cover are so *me*! Wish I could join you for a beer or two someday.

I am a multi-tasker when it comes to writing. I like to have a couple of things going...either editing one and writing another or writing a couple of different things until one 'sticks.'

However, I am not a multi-tasker when I do anything else. If I am cooking, I don't like to be talking to someone or even listening to music. It distracts me from concentrating on what I'm doing, and I make a mistake.

I do a couple of drafts purely for content...you know, make sure the story is working, the characters are fully fleshed out, that kind of thing. The last pass will be for the line edit stuff, like repetitive words, too many 'was' sentences, passive voice...all the things I may not have caught on the earlier edits because I wasn't drilling down that far.

Sandra Ferguson said...

I go through the manuscript so many times I don't when I catch what.

If it leaps off the page then I fix it and don't worry what edit I'm in.

I have noticed if a certain word was incredibly redundant in my last book, I'm much more likely to catch it as I write the first draft of the next book. Don't know why -- but I think it's because I just hate redundancy.

Maureen McGowan said...

That's what I do, too, Sandra... but I'm starting to think I'm wasting time. I'm really going to try with the next one to only focus on "story" for the first few passes. But not sure I can...

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