Triaging Your Time and Editing
by Erin Brenner
Editing at the end of the year can be challenging. We struggle to motivate ourselves. The days are shorter and colder (for some of us, anyway), encouraging us to stay in bed for just five more minutes.
We struggle, too, to fit the work into our available time. There are holiday activities crowding our schedules, and we want to go have fun. As freelancers we’re more tempted to do so. After all, the boss won’t mind, right?
Then there are the year-end activities associated with running our own businesses. Understanding how well we did this year and planning for next year take time, but the health of our business depends on them.
Our needs aside, though, there’s another problem. Many of our clients are in a mad rush to finish everything by December 31. What is it about the end of the year that makes us want to tidy everything up and be finished? Even clients we don’t work with regularly might pop up because another editor they depend on is on vacation.
Suddenly we have more work than we can reasonably edit in the usual timeframe, never mind the client’s shortened deadline. It’s time to triage, both our schedules and the client’s work, the latter with the client’s consent, of course.
Triage Your Schedule
There’s no getting around the fact that there are more demands on our time come November and December. When practical, the best course is to plan ahead of time how many hours you can reasonably work in the last two months of the year. What kind of time off do you need or want to take care of year-end business tasks and your personal life?
To maintain your sanity, build downtime into your schedule. Do something you enjoy. If decorating a tree gives you life, prioritize it. Schedule it if you have to, and don’t let it be taken from you. Even if it’s just one special activity, do it. It will make the busyness easier to handle.
Which leads us to the flip side: Do you need that extra work coming your way? Expenses rise at this time of year, and January can be a slow month. Review your expenses and make a conscious decision about how much extra work you need to reach your financial goal. This will make it easier to tell some clients no later.
Also consider whether you need to take the extra work or not. Will the client make that last-minute work a nightmare? Will they appreciate your efforts later? Sure, the extra money is nice, but if the wolf isn’t at the door, are you just teaching bad clients to disrespect your time? Or do you need to do the work because the client will walk away if you don’t, and you need that client?
Everyone has different needs. Take a moment to define yours and how you can best balance those.
Triage the Editing
Before you jump into a manuscript, determined to edit it as fast as you can, make a plan. Triaging is about consciously deciding what you will edit and what you won’t in order to meet a looming deadline.
Discuss with your client first how you will triage. If this is an ongoing client, you can generalize the triage list enough so you can use it whenever the situation calls for it. Always discuss your list with the client beforehand, however. The client has a right to know what kind of edit they’re paying for.
Your client may need educating, as well, on why some edits are more important than others. Clarity outweighs style every time, at least for the reader. Be willing to negotiate, too. Sometimes whether you cap an industry term is all a client’s boss cares about. Your client should know the politics of their situation and what needs to be done to keep everyone happy.
When triaging, try to take at least a few minutes to skim the document. Does anything jump out at you as a particular problem? Anything you can safely ignore? For example, perhaps you can meet the deadline if the author checks their own math. While you’re skimming, ensure sentences start with a capital letter and end with the appropriate punctuation.
Use your time-saving tools to the max. Run those macros, use shortcuts, and apply anything else that saves time. Don’t forget to spell-check; let the software catch as many spelling mistakes for you as it can.
Once you’re ready to edit, keep your prioritized list at the front of your mind. Accuracy and clarity go to the top of the list. A missing serial comma will be the least of your worries if the author has a giant hole in the argument.
If you’re responsible for legal concerns, such as trademark use, plagiarism, and libel, keep those high on your list as well.
Fix awkward constructions and duplicate words. If there is easy-to-spot, easy-to-fix wordiness, fix it. If you start to get bogged, though, and the meaning is clear, leave the wordiness.
Correct egregious errors in word choice, but leave the debatable ones alone.
Check names and headlines. Both of these things will jump out at skimmers, and there’s never a good time to misspell someone’s name.
Fix anything that will jump out at readers.
If you distinguish between a light, medium, and heavy copyedit, you can triage at those different levels, as well. Go through your usual edit list and prioritize those items that affect accuracy, clarity, readability, and legal concerns.
Remember the purpose of triaging: doing the best edit you can in too-short of a time. Prioritize your time and your editing, and you’ll preserve your sanity for another day.
Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.