Monday, 29 August 2011

Micromanaging, overediting and knowing when to stop

When the Novel Spaces group blog went live two years ago I watched over it like a fussy mama. As co-coordinator, I wanted everything to be purrrrfect. I checked the list of posts already written and scheduled, and noticed that one author had not pre-scheduled his first post. No problem, I told myself. People have different approaches: some will prepare weeks ahead while others will create and post at the very moment they're supposed to go live...

But there I was anyway, minutes to midnight, just before my friend's post was to appear, and there was no sign of his article in the lineup. Sheesh, I wondered. Maybe he forgot, it being a holiday weekend and all. I trotted over to Amazon, did some window shopping, then returned to the blog and checked the list of posts again. Nothing. I shot off an apologetic e-mail to the guy, something along the lines of: Sorry to be a nuisance - but did you forget today's your day to post? Then I clicked over to check the blog once more before I went to bed - and there it was! My friend's post! Right on time, too.

Needless to say, I felt like an idiot. I don't like anyone looking over my shoulder, sniffing at my heels, or whatever analogy there might be for just being ANNOYING! So why was I doing that to other people? Couldn't I have waited at least until the next morning before I started firing off nagging e-mails?

I made a resolution that night: Don't be a bloody pest. Leave grown people alone to do what they have to.

This obsessiveness carries over to my writing, sad to say. I know writers who never rewrite, who edit as they go, submit their product when they get to the end and then move on to the next project. I'm at the other end of the spectrum: when I get to 'The End' my work is just beginning. If I re-read my manuscript 50 times I find things to change each of those times. I delete, add, modify, shift around, rename, reword, rephrase, restore to the original, shift back again and generally edit until I reach a point where I have to say: Hands off. Leave it alone. Didn't you hear me? Step away from that @#$%*! manuscript!

Overediting is a real danger to writers, just like micromanaging is to organizers. You run the risk of running past the point where your nit-picking is beneficial and you begin doing real damage. Instead of growing stronger, the work grows weaker as you focus more and more on minutiae and begin to lose sight of the big picture. Recognizing that point is vital, and truly difficult for micromanaging, perfectionist, anal-retentive writers - like me.


Debs Carr said...

Hah, I know what you mean. I never know when to stop with my editing and always like to have everything prepared ahead of time. I drive my teen nuts!

Liane Spicer said...

Debs, I drive myself nuts!

Chris Stovell said...

Oh, don't! So much of my work hasn't seen the light of day because I've worried at it so much!

I've said this elsewhere, but I'll repeat it because it really helped me. At the beginning of this year I'd lost so much confidence in my writing that I forced myself to write a daily haiku (just for me, I hasten to add!). What I found was that, every day, there was a moment when I wanted to bin the whole thing because it wasn't 'right'. On the other hand I'd set myself this task - I had to do it! - and by pushing through that phase, I usually ended up with a haiku that was acceptable. I've learned that the uber-critical phase is part of the process for me.

Liane Spicer said...

I guess I didn't believe it when veteran writers said the publishing gig gets harder, not the other way around. I still need to work on accepting the uber-critical part of myself so it doesn't cripple me like it has in the past.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way recommends an alternative to your haiku method, namely three pages of free writing every morning. Lots of writers swear by it so I'm thinking of giving it a try.