Editing is Hard

I’ve completed the editing process. Wow. That is something.

With this milestone behind me, I thought I would take some time out of the improv-related posts to share a little about the writing process. A lot of folks think about writing a book and it goes without saying it’s a lot of work. I definitely welcome the opportunity and challenge, and encourage others to do the same (but I strongly urge you to think about why write a book in the first place).

With that said, I want to share some reflection on the writing and specifically the editing process.

Outline

Anyone who thinks they can write a book without any preparation is fooling themselves and cheating their audience. When Brad and I undertook UX Research we wrote three outlines:

  1. Rough outline of topics. This was maybe 1 page long for the entire book. It listed our chapters and their intent
  2. Chapter Outline – Summary. We went through each chapter and listed our main points. In many cases, these became our section headers. Each chapter was about a page long, including a few sentence summary
  3. Chapter Outline – Full. We took our one-page outline and expanded it to three or four pages each. Below each section we added shorthand about what we wanted to cover.

Brad and I had a weekly call to keep one another honest about our progress and work would “ping pong” from one of us to the next. So one author never owned a chapter without the other person weighing in.

Medium-fidelity outline of one of the rule-based chapters for Collaborative Improv

Now, with Collaborative Improv, I had the flexibility of being my own co-author. That being said, I merged step 2 and step 3 into a more detailed Rough Outline and a less-comprehensive Full Chapter Outline (this I regretted)

Writing your first pass

If you have a full outline, writing your first pass could be as simple as making sentences out of short hand. I mentioned I regretted a less comprehensive Full Outline for Collaborative Improv. This meant I had more active writing during this phase. This, subsequently, led to more editing.

Reading out loud

I can’t stress the importance of this step enough. The easiest way I catch grammatical or verbal snags is by hearing my words out loud. I grab a large pitcher of water, and sometimes a beer, and read the manuscript. I catch, in real time, blatant tongue twisters or areas of confusion. I kill most run on sentences.

Asking others to review/edit

The best part of writing UX Research was I had Brad to edit my work. And me to edit his. We kept each other honest in what we wanted to say and not being too dear to our “darlings”, or the things we wouldn’t want to let go of.

For Collaborative Improv, I recruited Brad and Dani Solomon to provide their expertise. Brad is a trusted friend and colleague having written with me previously and Dani is a Content Strategist as well as performer, so could call me out where I might be a little too improv-oriented for the general audience.

Conversation among editors in a shared resource (gDocs) reduced conflicting feedback and the opportunity for editors to upvote comments.

Step Away – Let Them Edit

When asking folks to edit your work, it’s easy to want to peek at their comments. This was especially true for Collaborative Improv since I used GoogleDocs for the writing and editing process.

I offered a few weeks for the editing to take place (about three) and I forced myself not to look at the comments. I’d receive emails about comments being made, which I couldn’t help but scan, but I refused to go into the document.

Processing Feedback

This way, I could take all the feedback as a cohesive conversation. And I could take each comment individually with a comprehensive perspective. One approach I found helpful was to take each piece of feedback as though it is true. Evaluate it. Mull it over. This is very similar to the Improv Rule “Everything is True”. Just because it is true, doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. There are areas I agreed with the editors, areas I understood their comment and disregarded it, and others where I simply disagreed.

Don’t go out of order.

The first time you review edits, go in order. Try and get through the manuscript in a few sittings and go from start to end. This will help re-introduce yourself to your work. After all, if you truly stepped away while others were editing, it’s been a few weeks.

But also, don’t be afraid to skip sections.

Skip the large edits. The things that might require more investigation and rewrites. Once you understand the breadth of the edits, take them as you would any backlog – based on priority, complexity, and of course interest.

You Have the Final Say

This is your project. Your work. Just as I took some feedback, disregarded others, and disagreed with some, whatever you write is an expression of your perspective. Maintain your voice.

What’s Next

As I said, editing is complete. I have a physical PROOF copy on order for one final pass and I’ve started tweaking the Kindle layout of the document. I anticipate a post about those trials shortly.

So far, I still “feel” on schedule to launch around the end of May, early June… wish me luck!

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