Sunil Sebastian (sunilsebastian) wrote,
Sunil Sebastian

Editable Inevitable

A comment from lisamantchev suddenly made me realize just how long I've been sitting on her manuscript and in a fresh heap of guilt, I've been thinking about the problem. Not that she meant to guilt me, she was just talking about a conversation with her agent, and it occurred to me that I really don't want to be holding the potato at whatever point she's in a sale situation. Partly because I don't want to stress her out, period, and partly because she'd not hesitate to kick my ass, but she'd be all nice about it and I would feel so incredibly guilty.

There's no question that there are *reasons* for being slow on this effort, and she claims that she's getting value out of the exercise so I think my line of fresh jam is preserved for now. But circumstances aside, it's a slow business and it bothers me, because I'm supposed to be a smart guy, and I'm usually a blazing fast reader.

Take as a reference point that I can rip through an average mass-market paperback in about an 4 hours. Depends on the books, depends how much I care, I can do it faster or slower, but it's a good working position. 400 pages, say, working out to about 100 pages an hour, or a page and a half a minute.

Take as another reference point that I can usually turn over one of her short stories by the next day, without it particularly impinging on the stuff that I would do anyway. Say 5000 words in about an half an hour of effort. Which is just under two hundred words per minute.

But editing a novel is harder. To me. And the effort is increased not only by word count, but by relationships. Not only do characters have to be consistent within the chapter, but they have to be consistent between them. Add larger plot arcs, and character development, and all that jazz. Editing a second novel is even harder than that, because now there's consistency issues between novels, and character issues on this new dimention and so on, and so forth.

It hurts my brain.

The more I get to see about this whole creation process, the more I am awestruck by the capacity to do it. I realize that at one level it is "just" writing, but at another level, the raw magic of this process is a hurricane wind. In my face.

But here I am now, in the way. And I don't want to be, because this is Lisa Effing Mantchev and that leaves no room for dereliction. It must be done, for I am her faithful sidekick.

So last night, I sat down and worked out a plan. I decided to treat it like I would any other piece of work, rather than my normal approach of throwing myself at it and seeing how far I could get before I got distracted. Which means I needed some metrics.

Lisa writes chapters of the Theatre Illuminata in chunks that average around 20 pages. Which means that if I just focus for two minutes on a page, I can get through a chapter in forty minutes. I can give her two minutes of my undivided attention. That's easy.

So I set my watch and it chirped as I started my clock. And read. Made scratches and suggestions and observations. And around halfway down the page, BEEP BEEP BEEP.

Seriously?? That was two minutes? Did I set that up right?

I check the watch first, and the page second. Doesn't seem like I did very well. On the other hand, it was the first page under this regime.

Okay. I'll use the timer again, while I finish this page, it should only be a few more seconds anyway, right?


This time, I was at the bottom of that first page, so I figured it's a warm up and I just need to get into Flow. I took a deep breath, started the timer and hit page 2 of chapter 8. Part way through the page....


I gave myself two or three more pages to try to get into the rhythm before I decided that there was a flaw in the model. I was confronted with reality: It takes longer than two minutes to edit a page. The timer going off mid-page is just a painful distraction. So I adjusted the timer to three minutes, and tried again.

And made it BEEP BEEP BEEP most of the way down the page.

A few repetitions of three-minute trials showed me a few things. The fixed effort of editing is scanning the page. The variable effort is marking it up. And that variable is determined by two major factors. How careful Lisa had been and how much of a smartass did I need to be?

So, I think, roughly, that I can sustain a 3.5 minute page. 3.5*20 = 70 minutes per chapter. Times twenty chapters means that I will require about twenty four hours to do a detailed edit.

Wow, I thought. That's pretty impressive.

Really?, my inner smartass replied. Because that means that you weren't able to find 24 hours for poor, neglected Lisa in the last few months.

Which really does suck and I have to apologize now. I'd not looked at the big picture and I'm very very sorry, lady.

I'm going to try to continue my timer-based editing. I've got more refining to do. Three minutes isn't enough for a page, but it's enough to seriously push. I can finish off the page, and start the next clock.

So far, I've also been working "immediately." Find something and mark it. It has the advantage of letting me get my thoughts as things occur to me, but it also slows me down as I think about what and why I reacted as I did. It can actually mess out how I percieve scenes. So a thought was to make very short, fast marks as I do a first pass, and then go back to fill in details.

All I can say I'm gonna get done with this, because it's getting in the way of my plan where Lisa sells this puppy soon, makes a multi-million dollar movie deal that includes a directors-cut DVD with the deleted scenes wherein I make out with Ms Johansson, after which Lisa hires me as her full-time exclusive reader and sidekick. And I'm flexible, Lis. If you can't get rid of Ms Johansson after the shoot, you can store her at my place.

I'd totally do that for you.
Tags: editing, lisamantchev, writing
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