The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I hate editing!

Recently, I've been thinking about the process of editing written work in preparation for a talk I'm giving next month at an EAP event at Oxford Brookes University about Feedback in EAP (I'll be talking about what skills EAP teachers might learn from professional editors when they're giving feedback on student writing). And I remembered a blog post I put together way back at the start of the year. I decided not to post it at the time, because of the confidentiality issues that always surround publishing projects. Now the book in question, Oxford EAP Advanced/C1, is published and out there in the public domain though, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how the process was going back on a dark day in February ...

I’ve just been trying to put together some advice for EAP students about drafting, redrafting and editing a longer piece of written work, such as a research project or dissertation. As I sat back and read through what I’d written, I had to smile because the whole process is one that I’m rubbish at myself and absolutely hate! 

When I was at school, my essays would always come back covered in red pen, not because I was stupid or hadn’t answered the question, far from it, I would often get positive comments about my interesting and original ideas. It was in the edit that I fell down. However hard I tried, when I read back through what I’d thrown down on paper in a rush of inspiration and enthusiasm (I really enjoyed school on the whole), I just didn’t spot all the spelling errors and other silly mistakes. My teachers would despair of my “laziness”, but honestly, I don’t think it was for lack of effort or willingness to please, I was just a macro kinda girl who didn’t get on so well with the micro stuff.

Oddly, as an adult I developed something of an eye for detail, ending up in perhaps the most nit-picky of jobs as a lexicographer, where the tiniest micro-level details are all important.  How come? Well, I think I’ve come to realize that it’s about attention span. As a lexicographer, each entry is a little mini-project of its own – you can do the ‘big picture’, creative bit (pinning down the meaning of a word and dividing up the senses) AND the nitty gritty detailed bit all in one go, before you get bored and lose interest. Then you’re off onto a new word to play with.

Most of my early writing projects within ELT were also broken up into similarly small chunks. Moving from dictionaries, a lot of my initial writing jobs were around vocabulary and grammar practice activities, for workbooks, CDs, etc. I could take a run at each new activity and get it planned, researched, written and checked all before I got too bored with it. And coming from the meticulous world of lexicography, I was quite good at following a brief to the letter, putting it all in the right format, sticking to a strict wordlist for the level, etc. It was very satisfying to tick off a list of activities to be written and send them off as nice, neat little parcels.

Over the past year though, I’ve been trying to tackle an altogether more unruly beast, in co-authoring a whole coursebook. To an extent, the process has still been broken down into micro-tasks; units, modules and individual activities. As usual, I've thoroughly enjoyed the initial rush of enthusiasm researching a new topic and sketching out how to tackle it, then the challenge of deciding exactly how to make it work on the page. Leaving aside time pressures and the need to co-ordinate with co-author, editor, publisher etc., first drafts were fun. When it came to revisions and second drafts, I found myself dreading the prospect of going back to the manuscripts I’d already spent hours poring over and was already quite bored of. Thankfully, my tentative suggestion that I swap materials with my co-author and we revise each other’s drafts was accepted and I was able to attack the whole process with a fresh eye at least, if not quite the same energy levels.

But now we’re down to the dregs, going back over everything for the umpteenth time, pinning down details, making little tweaks and doing all the little fiddly bits to tie up the loose ends. I’m tired, I’ve run out of steam and part of me just wants to “hand it in” and be done with it! 

Everyone keeps telling me it’ll all be worth it in the end, when it’s finally published, all shiny and snazzy-looking, with my name on the cover … but late on a Friday afternoon after a long week of edits (and with many more to come), I’m feeling distinctly unconvinced!

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Blogger Tyson Seburn said...

I feel your pain, at least sympathetically. I don't mind going over someone else's writing with a fine-tooth comb (i.e. students'), but my own? I don't want to touch it again after spending hours on it.

1:29 am  

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