Saturday, July 25, 2009

Micromanaging, overediting and knowing when to stop

When this blog first went live a few weeks 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.

Liane Spicer

13 comments:

Farrah Rochon said...

Liane, I understand, lol. I've stopped the obsessive editing (I think), but I still have that urge to go back and fix things. There comes a time when you just have to let it go.

Captain Black said...

If it ain't broken...

KeVin K. said...

Of course the cultural myth is that as a native of a Caribbean paradise you should be laid back and relaxed. Alert status lime.

Me? My day job is one of anal-retentive micromanagement. There are two layers of auditors who go over everything I do and errors affect performance reviews. I work very hard at letting none of the obessive habits my job requires find their way into the rest of my life. I'm more successful in some areas than in others. One area where I fight most vigorously is my writing. It was a long road to "write, mail, repeat."

The key is to trust your own judgment. Second guesses are never right.

Debs said...

I've just lost my comment somehow.

I was going to say that I have a problem knowing when to stop editing, and I think in my case that it has a lot to do with lack of self-confidence with my writing.

Vanessa A. Johnson said...

I had a huge habit of editing while writing first draft. It took forever to finish a first draft. I think I'm better now. Thanks for sharing.

Vanessa A. Johnson said...

I had a huge habit of editing while writing first draft. It took forever to finish a first draft. I think I'm better now. Thanks for sharing.

Marissa Monteilh said...

So true about overediting. I force myself to not look at the ms. after all of the copyedits, etc. because I'll find something to mess w/and drive folks crazy - LOL.

Kaz Augustin said...

We still love ya, Liane! :)

Phyllis Bourne said...

I've also overedited a story to the point where it read oh-so-smooth, but I'd basically beat all the life out of it.

I'm (slowly) learning to put story at the forefront and not worry so much about picky points.

Maria Zannini said...

I stopped apologizing for being obsessive-compulsive a long time ago. That little quirk made me what I am and I'm grateful.

Ironically, I don't over-edit. Must be a flaw in my programming. *g*

Liane Spicer said...

Farrah, unfortunately, identifying the point where you have to let go is so very difficult for me.

Captain, tell me again. And again.

KeVin, my culture should disown me. I'm such a fraud - rarely liming, no party animal tendencies, and I don't even 'do' carnival. I look forward to attaining that "write mail repeat" nirvana, not to mention learning to trust my own judgment once again.

Debs, good to see you! That self-confidence business is tough, isn't it?

Hi and welcome, Vanessa! Editing during first draft is not a problem for me, but when it's done? Mercy!

Marissa, drive others crazy? I'd drive myself crazy at that point so once I turn in the galleys that's it! I don't want to know!

Kaz, a couple of those nagging e-mails in your inbox and I guarantee you'll have a change of heart. :)

Phyllis, I'm still climbing the nether slope of that learning curve... Just have to trust I'm moving forward and not the other way.

Maria, you're right. Those quirks give us our individual color but they can be such a pain.

Katrina said...

It's so hard to know when you're finished with a project. I like to write something without editing then leave it alone for a month or two. When I go back for my rewrites, I stop myself at five until my editor looks at it. Why five? Just the number I chose.

Liane Spicer said...

Katrina, five sounds like a fair number to me. A whole lot better than twenty.