Last week I realized that I had unglued from my writing chair while editing my novel. I decided to return to one of my favorite books on writing – Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – to see if I could find some ways to overcome my terror and enable myself to move forward.
The first six chapters of Bird by Bird discuss techniques that writers can employ to help overcome some of the psychological barriers that get in the way when they sit down to work. Although these techniques deal specifically with writing, I think that they could also apply to editing one’s writing. Here is my analysis of two of these techniques and how they can be used to re-apply the bum-glue:
Lamott suggests putting a one inch photo frame on your writing desk, or near your writing space. She suggests that when you have trouble focusing on what to write pretend you are looking through the one-inch photo frame into your story and write only what you can see through that one-inch photo frame.
While a novel might appear to be one enormous gelatinous mass – or mess, depending on your mood – it can be broken down into various components. The big picture is plot, theme, point of view, setting, structure, style and voice. Details within that big picture are language, grammar, spelling, weather, time, characterizations, descriptions, dialect, word choice, and sensory details, etc.
I have been working through the novel over the course of the past couple of years editing it through rewriting and tweaking. Because I am so close to final polish I forgot about that 1-inch photo frame and tried to edit everything at once, missed the self-imposed (and totally inadequate) deadline I had set and came unstuck.
Reviewing how to use the 1-inch photo frame technique I have come to realize that not only is it the focus that is lacking, but that there is also a problem with my goal setting process.
Yikes! Not what I wanted to find out. But knowledge is power, right?
So, in addition to refocusing through that 1-inch frame, I need to reassess my goals for editing using SMART goal setting.
When the critical voices in your head become too loud and you can’t write because of them, Lamott suggests closing your eyes and isolating the voices and then imagine that the voice is coming from a mouse. You then pick the mice up by the tail and put them in a glass jar and ignore them. This way you acknowledge the doubt and then put it aside.
These critical voices are also known as the Inner Editor. Ignoring the Inner Editor during the writing phase is excellent advice, but during the editing phase you should listen to her (mine is definitely a her) so that you can polish your words and make them the best that they can be.
The caveat here is to make sure that the Inner Editor knows exactly what her role is. Her job is to be objective about the novel, to find and fix the flaws with the current manuscript. Her job is not to point out a) your lack of cat herding skills, b) your tendency to stare into space when searching for the perfect word, c) that you messed up with setting your goals, d) why aren’t you writing/editing story x, y or z instead, e) what were you thinking …, or f) any other issue not relating to the specific manuscript in hand.
If she strays from her focus on the the current manuscript and into personal territory or attacks your self-esteem then you have permission to fire the bitch and get another editor.
However, as bitchy as my Inner Editor is at the moment I have to admit that it’s really not her fault. The Manager caused the initial problem with her inadequate planning. Then the Team Lead compounded the problem with her lack of focus. Therefore the Editor is retained and Manager and Team Lead have both been fried (and no, that’s not a typo)…
Bum-glue has been re-applied.
p.s. isn’t it nice to be part of a team?