Journal: News & Comment

Monday, February 28, 2005
# 2:04:00 PM:

Polish and shine

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One thing I've discovered—and which is hard to explain to people who aren't editors—is that editing a document can take a lot longer than writing it. At my work, for instance, very smart people who have been thinking long and hard, sometimes for months, about a project can sometimes create a multi-page draft of a proposal or report in a few hours.

When it comes time for me to edit and format it, I don't have to do the heavy lifting of creating the ideas or figuring out how they will work, but I do have to go through all the pesky little details of document, paragraph, and sentence structure; punctuation, fonts, margins, and cross-references; style and voice and mood. That can be slow, as can making a document written in a hurry—or sometimes in disparate bursts of creativity that can be months or weeks apart—into a cohesive whole.

And then it often has to go through several rounds of revisions, sometimes involving several people, with new inconsistencies and errors possible at each stage. Sometimes I do discover fundamental flaws in a concept, or areas that are missing and need to be addressed, which requires yet another cycle.

I'm not complaining. This is my job, and I love doing it. But I'm also trying to understand why my work—which often seems to me to be merely wrapping up loose ends or cleaning things up, in comparison to the hard work of coming up with new thoughts in the first place—occasionally takes such an inordinately long time.

Think of it like redecorating a bedroom. Once the important stuff is done, the broad strokes of bringing in new furniture and painting the walls and hanging the pictures, it can take quite a while before the furniture is in just the right place, all the dust is vacuumed up, the pictures are set straight, and the clothes are all put away so that it actually feels like a room you can sleep in comfortably.

Plus I know the people who assign me that work read this weblog, so they'll know—aside from the time I'm taking to write this journal entry—why those edits I started last week still aren't done.


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