|Photo credit: john.schultz on Flickr|
I write lists for everything— I have an ongoing To-Do list with sub-lists prioritized by date on my iPod (the 2Do app is fantastic, for those of you who are interested), I have a list of every blog post ever written on this blog ever (also known as the mysterious Blog Directory), I make shopping lists, blog post idea lists and when I'm editing, I have a list for that, too.
The editing list is, in my opinion, one of the best lists for writers of all. I know that's a lofty claim, but hear me out.
You see, while writing is a very right-brain creative process, editing is very much the opposite. As Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk; edit sober," or, as I've also heard it said: write hot; edit cool.
The creation process of putting words to the page for the first time, of creating that first draft and fleshing out new characters and plots is entirely different from the analytical, detached process of editing— or at least, it should be. Writing is a passionate process— writers need to be excited while fleshing that scene out for the first time. We need to love our words and dive head-first into the story. We need to be, as Hemingway might have put it, drunk with our words.
The editing process, not so much. Editing requires distance and analytical measurements of what works and what doesn't. While editing, writers need to be able to take a look at their work as objectively as possible and try to separate themselves from the work so that the weaknesses and ugly bits are more apparent. Editing is the territory of the left brain.
Thus, editing is the perfect time for lists.
When looking at a mountain of rewrites and problems in your WIP that needs fixing, the editing process can quickly become disheartening and overwhelming. Progress can be difficult to measure— what's one edit when you have two hundred pages dripping with red ink? Writers often feel as though they're fighting a losing battle, and many of them simply give up.
It's no wonder so many writers hate editing.
But it doesn't have to be overwhelming— in fact, with the right tools, it can be downright exciting. The elusive list is an example of such a tool, and if you haven't before, I challenge you to give it a chance.
Next time you're editing your WIP, make a note of all the things that need fixing. Maybe there's an opportunity for an extra scene after chapter 5 that could better explain the antagonist’s motivation— add it to the list. Maybe you messed up and forgot that your secondary's father's name is Jim, not Josh halfway through the novel and you need to fix it— add it to the list. Maybe you're way too dependent on certain words, or your character voice needs some tweaking, or you accidentally made your antagonist bald with a moustache (it happens)— add it to the list.
If you're feeling super ambitious, or you just like organization like yours truly, you can divide your list into sub-categories like "Character Development," "Minor Fixes," "Tying Things Together," etc. It doesn't matter how you organize it really, do whatever feels most natural for you.
Once you've completed your list, you may be tempted to be terrified by the sheer size of it. Don't give in to it. Take each list item one at a time— maybe your goal is to finish two or three list items a day— once you've completed an item, check it off or cross it out. I think you might find there's something strangely satisfying about checking off list items you've completed.
If you take each item one at a time, you'll soon find that you've accomplished much more than you might have thought possible. Keep working and it won't be long before you have a long list of ways you improved your manuscript— which, if you ask me, isn't such a bad thing to have.
Have you ever employed the list method in your editing? What other editing techniques have you tried?