Like many who push a pen, I’ve had to find work to pay for the ink. Eons ago, I waited tables in a ridiculously short pink polyester dress. On Wednesday nights at the casino restaurant where I worked, it was regionally famous for beer and steak. Nevada buckaroos brought their wives to town; Navy (yes, there is a Navy base in Nevada) fly-boys arrived to eat, drink and play 21; and miners cleaned up to make it a date night.
What I had to do felt like multitasking at its most demanding–seat tables, bring beer, fetch water, take orders, prep salads, bring extra rolls, laugh at bad jokes, pick up hot plates, remember steak knives, refill beer, find steak sauce, clear plates, scoop sherbert, tally tab and earn a good tip. Times that by ten because it was how many tables we each had in our sections and on a Wednesday night we were packed from 5 to 10 p.m.
Later, as a manager I learned that multitasking is a myth. This NPR article on the topic even cites a restaurant line cook as an example–of not multitasking. Instead, we humans are expedient at changing from one task to the other, but we cannot do multiple tasks at once. It’s why you need to break down your tasks into chunks with breaks in between.
We break down writing into scenes, and we break down editing into levels. It’s how we make it manageable.
Before I launch into editing as a separate task from writing, let me offer you some ideas for time management. It’s getting to be that time of year when everyone is feeling pressed about time, uncertain which tasks to prioritize and overwhelmed by trying to do it all.
Tips for Efficiency in Time Management:
- Use a calendar to enter all important dates: deadlines, blog schedule, writing goals, personal time and appointments. Hint: your calendar should not be “full.” You need blank days.
- Make a to-do list weekly and prioritize tasks according to importance: A, B or C. Work your As off first. Studies show that we tend to do the easiest tasks first and often those are Cs.
- Organize tasks. I have outdoor chores, downstairs duties and office expectations. I take time for each “place,” giving it my full attention.
- Set a timer. Especially if you work for a client or have identified a distraction, you need to monitor your time.
- Embrace a distraction. When migrating birds kept me at the window with binoculars, I started a blog. It gave me an outlet for the distraction, and a way to practice my voice in writing. If you like a game, play it for 20 minutes as a reward for finishing an important task for the day. Use it; don’t let it use you.
- Take breaks after ending one task and starting another. You can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, but suffice to say that you need to include regular breaks.
- Go easy on yourself. If you are scrambling for time, all the time, lighten up your load. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to post fewer times on your blog. It’s okay to cut your writing time back to 30 minutes a day if it means you’ll better be able to write every day.
So on to editing and why writers can’t multitask. When you write, write. Turn off the Grammar Tyrant in your head with the promise of, “we’ll edit later.” When you edit, break it down into manageable chunks. Don’t try to write and edit simultaneously. You’ll either frustrate your creativity or flow of ideas; or you’ll miss big mistakes and little ones, too.
For a client, I edit their bi-monthly newsletter. It’s a project management role that goes beyond editing–I plan, hire contractors, organize the layout, assign submissions, write copy, edit, monitor distribution and increase readership. Truly, editing is only part of that project. And I edit, when it’s time to edit.
Here’s how I break down editing a project:
- Content. For my client, I make sure each article supports the organization’s mission and messages and meets word count.
- Clarity. Next, I read as a reader. Does it flow, make sense, is clear? Are the facts substantiated? If it needs major revision it’s returned to the writer; minor changes I make without altering the voice of the writer or the approved content of the client.
- Correctness. Finally, the Grammar Tyrant can come out and go to work. It’s the last task of editing. Often, this is called proofing, although I do a final proof not for incorrect grammar, but for missed typos.
How does that equate to editing a book? Consider these same levels:
- Content. Enlist beta-readers, volunteer editors or writing peers for feedback on early drafts. Use caution and go with your gut. You don’t want divergent opinions, but you want to know if the story in your head is coming out on the page. Is the message coming through?
- Clarity. Depending upon your genre, clarity could include fact-checking or deepening a character. You want a professional who knows the business of books. You can hire an editor to assess your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Correctness. By the time you’ve revised your draft to sharpen the story, you’ll need to edit again for correctness. Mistakes happen in re-writing. If your revision was major, consider copy edits. If you are just in need of polishing, then proofreading should suffice. If this is your first book, consider content editing which is a deeper service, but worth the extra cost if you want to go the traditional publishing route.
Not only is multitasking a myth, but I also believe that writers can be their worst own editors. We worry; we over-think; we over-correct; we under-correct; we get attached; we delude ourselves into thinking the story is clear; we delude ourselves into thinking the story is crap. There’s nothing objective in that scenario.
However, as a writer, you do need to learn how to self-edit, but we’ll talk more about that next time. Consider self-editing to be the clean up you do in between the revisions when working with an editor. We’ll also talk more about beta-readers which serve a different role from professional editors.
And do correct those mistakes! If you don’t, and the reader is the next set of eyes, they might not be kind. Angering a reader’s inner Grammar Tyrant is not what you want to do.