Every morning I board the number 10 bus with a chapter of my memoir, still warm from my printer. For the 25-minute ride downtown, I edit furiously; some days it’s my most productive 25 minutes all day. When a paragraph doesn’t work, I don’t try to fix it, I just circle it and write “FIX” in the margin.
If a couple of paragraphs are repetitive, I circle and write “COMBINE.”
As I read, if I get a twitch in my stomach that something is missing, I don’t worry about what’s missing because that would slow me down, I just write “ADD” in the margin with an arrow.
By the time I arrive at my office, my writer brain is fully warmed and this big-picture editing has created my roadmap for the finer editing and re-writes. I’m set for my work of the day.
This process works I realized because it gives me three (or four) things:
- A space and a deadline: The bus provides a physical container and the length of my journey provides a deadline. This makes procrastination impossible.
- An assignment: The pages have been printed ahead of time so I’m clear on my job: Read it and mark it up.
- The instruction to mark up without fixing: Because I don’t worry about minutiae, I just label what needs to be fixed later. This keeps my momentum.
Now this rewrite is not overwhelming because everything that needs to be fixed and re-written is already labeled – it feels like it’s already half done.
The key ingredients are: a space, a deadline, a clear assignment, and the instruction to label the problem without fixing it.