Monday, April 13, 2020

Concentration and Stamina, the Keys to Copyediting

When every physical and mental resource is focused, one's power to solve a problem multiplies tremendously. 

Norman Vincent Peale.

The ability to focus your full attention on one thing for a long period of time, this describes concentration.  Which is why concentrating for long durations of time can be exhausting unless you've learned how to build up your stamina. 

On the trail of ideas, topics or themes, all writer's need to stick with their chosen topic, without being distracted by life's daily activity.  For some writers a daily ritual will help keep them on track, and help steer them on a steady course.  Others prefer complete quiet, with little to no distraction, while others thrive in a busy environment.  Before you sit down to work there are particular things you must have around you to get started.  Proofreading and editing are no different.  So create your happy place, and let's dive into some habits that might help expedite your work.

Multiple Read Throughs Required

Both skilled and inexperienced writer's alike fall into the trap of thinking that you can fix everything in one fell swoop.  There's so much for you to think about that makes this impossible to do in one shot. 

You might want to try it like this instead:

1.  Line Edit

Focus on coherence, cohesion, choice of words, and rephrasing where necessary.

2. Copyedit

Go through the whole document again looking at sentence construction. 

3. Formatting

This can be done a little with headings, the use of italics or bold in the text.  You can also look out for inconsistencies in font, point size and capitalisation, as well as line spacing, widows and orphans.

4. Proofreading

Look-out for those pesky gremlins by reading out loud to yourself, this will help you root them out.

Disengage Yourself From the Internet

The fantasy that is multitasking (the ability to be able to do more than one thing at a time) is a fallacy. 

This is what researchers say about multitasking:
  • If you keep changing from one task to another it will take you more time to do each task.
  • Task changing will create more mistakes.
  • The more complicated the task, the more mistakes, time and error penalties are made.
The 'switching cost', which is how Cognitive psychologists convey the price of energy of the brain's executive processes, which include: task reconfiguration, attention shifting, goal retrieval, and impediment of the previous task.  That's why we all need to 'pay attention' so that we filter out less, helping us sustain full concentration on a task.  You can use online timers such as the Tomato Timer to allow yourself a certain amount of time to get the job done.

Take Your Time

Time flies when you're writing, but editing should be done at a slower speed.  Take as long as you need for each level of editing.  Otherwise you're vulnerable to Gremlins.

Jot Down Notes With a Notepad

It's  impossible to examine everything in one go, so keep a notepad handy as you do your editing.  Writing notes will help maintain your focus without drifting away from your task.

Edit as You Go, or After?

Sometimes it's difficult to find words that may be wrong as you go along.  This is easily solved by using Find and Replace on any word processing software.  You can also make a quick note,and do it later.

Go Ergonomic With a Standing Desk

Sounds like a crazy idea, but standing desks have become a must-have piece of office furniture for anyone wanting a healthier way of working at their desk.  It will take a little getting used to, but has many health benefits, as well as help you concentrate more easily.

Utilise Two Screens

These days laptops and computers can be comfortably adapted to add extra plugs in the USB port.  Affording you the luxury of an extra screen.  The use of an extra screen can be helpful for managing progress with a style guideline or notes.  With two monitors instead of one, and no more going back and forth between screens.

Get Yourself a Wireless Mouse

Using a laptop's touchpad can be time consuming, and a mouse with a cable attached can be a little awkward because of the USB cable.  Keep it simple with a wireless mouse.

Master Keyboard Shortcuts

I still use keyboard shortcuts for certain things I do on my laptop.  But here are some useful shortcuts for editing on MS Word:
  • Ctrl+s to save
  • Ctrl+p to paste
  • Ctrl+b bold
  • Ctrl+i italic
  • Ctrl+z undo
Why You Need to Take More Breaks

When you're working on your PC or laptop it's really important to take breaks, especially time away from the screen for your eyes, and breaks to move your body.

Why Are Eye Breaks So Important?

For hundreds of years our eyes have been used to doing various close up jobs with them, things like reading and sewing.  In the twenty-first century many of us spend hours on end looking at laptop screens, or tablet screens.  Your eyes like any other part of your body start to tire after a while, more so when you're sitting in the same position.  This is called eye strain.  Your risk of myopia (nearsightedness) increases the more time you spend in front of a laptop/PC screen.  Spend a little time (fifteen minutes) away from your screen and instead focus on something else, or look out of your window.  This will help greatly reduce your risk of becoming nearsighted.

Why Are Body Breaks So Important?

After a long period of time (an hour or so) your body starts to get tired.  That's why you need to stand up and walk away from your PC and keyboard, stretch your legs, and take a walk around.  Again this could be for about a quarter of an hour.  Go make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and chill out for that time.  Anything that doesn't involve looking at your screen.  It'll still be there when you get back.

Simple Things to Remember

To hasten continuous attention you need to:
  • Take time for multiple read throughs.
  • Disengage yourself from the Internet.
  • Take your time.
  • Jot down notes with a notepad.
  • Edit as you go, or after?
  • Go ergonomic with a standing desk.
  • Utilise two screens.
  • Master keyboard shortcuts.
  • Take breaks for your eyes and body.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about how you edit your writing, and what you do during your quick breaks. 
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  1. good tips, not clear on the difference between an orphan and a widow.

  2. Thank you for your comment Sidonie. Widows and orphans are used in typography, describing the single word at the beginning or end of a column or page. Both are caused by the unintended white space at the top or bottom of the page.


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