2 min read

Editing and atomic intentions

A problem I have tended to run into when editing stories is intending edits that are bigger than they sound. I'll think about, or sometimes write down, a plan for an edit I want to make, and it will be more work than it sounds like in theory. There is a significant amount of secondary work that you need to put in to complete that primary task, which work isn't directly visible in the plan. I seem to fall into this pattern a lot more when the secondary work involves rereading, reviewing, looking, finding, thinking, or figuring out.

For example, when I was looking at a story recently, I realized I needed a new scene. The thought went something like: "Oh, look, there's this thing that I summarized, but actually maybe it is worth turning into a full scene. And move this part later in the story. So that's the next thing I'm going to do." Obviously to do this you need to write the scene, and that work is relatively clear from this plan. It's obvious you need to move the scene. The problem with this plan is that it doesn't take into account the required secondary work necessary to fit or move this scene in the story. You have to (1) find where you're going to put the scene (I hadn't figured that out exactly yet), and (2) fit the scene into that point in the text by adding the appropriate transitions and setup around it.

I find it is really easy to plan edits like this by accident, and when I do it is usually hard to get myself to do the plan. Logically I just need to do the thing. I just need to move the scene. What's so hard about that? Except I actually know on some level that it's going to be more work than it sounded like when I thought up that idea, so I don't do it. I don't write and move the scene.

It is often helpful then to spell out this extra work in the plan. Instead of planning to write the scene and move this part, you plan to: (1) Write the scene, then (2) read through the story, then (3) write for 5 minutes about where you are going to put the scene, then (4) put it there, then (5) match the scene to the new context by writing transitions. Splitting things up like this makes the extra work visible, which makes it easier to plan for how much time it will take and when you are going to do it.