Staying in the helicopter

helicopter over forest

Arabani, Flickr (source)

As you may recall, I began the first edit of my work-in-progress, Tangled, in late April. My plan for this edit was to focus on the macro – i.e. to analyse the purpose and effectiveness of entire chapters and plot lines. To take a helicopter view, if you will.

Six weeks later, I’m not even half way through. Why? Well, aside from not devoting as much time to it as I should, I’ve been having real trouble staying in the helicopter. Whenever I sit down to edit, I remind myself to keep my focus broad. But before ten minutes has passed, I find myself re-writing individual sentences and mulling over the literary merits of ‘pondered’ versus ‘wondered’. Gah! Why do I do this?!

To be honest, I think I know why. I do it because it’s easier – for me, at least. Some people are naturally broad thinkers. Others, like me, are drawn to the minutia. If you give me an idea, I’ll immediately start thinking about the individual steps required to put that ideaย into action – when I should probably be concentrating on whether the idea itself has any merit.

bark pattern

Terri Swallow, Flickr (source)

I do the same thing with myย writing. But I know there’s not much point in polishing a paragraph to perfection only to decide later than the entire chapter it resides in has to go. So I need your help. I need your advice on how to stay in the helicopter and focus on the forest, not the pattern in the bark of an individual tree. All suggestions will be gratefully considered! ๐Ÿ™‚



Filed under Progress update, Revising, Tangled, Writing

17 responses to “Staying in the helicopter

  1. Awasht

    Probably not the best advice, but maybe if you imagine you really are in a helicopter, jumping out to check a sentence on the ground might not be the safest option! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Print it out in single-line spacing (no room for notes) and use two highlighters – one color to say “this can go” and one color to say “review wording later”.

    Oh, and don’t give up ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. One other approach: Skim read for the sole-purpose of making a scene list (no changing allowed). It’s the beginning of your outline / timeline AND will help you identify chunks that don’t forward the plot, or repeat, or could be combined with other chunks.

    Then don’t give up ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. I think maybe changing your whole process. I’m like you, if I’m reading through, I’m going to correct everything I see wrong as I go. It’s sort of an efficiency thing. This isn’t something I do, but your question made me think of it… possibly make a plot chart as a separate item and, then, go back and make sure everything is lining up correctly. Maybe, since you’ll have both hands occupied, you won’t try to correct mistakes or make improvements?

  5. I may have to try that myself.

  6. oh i agree here, print it out and read without having a pen to change wording. that way you HAVE to focus on the big picture in the chapter. By all means highlight a spelling mistake or poor wording as you go in another colour. Great ideas!

    I like to jot down the main points of the chapter, that way i can see if it is cool writing that i am liking or if the chapter is “actually needed or not”. Might help you to see flow problems as well.

    just my two cents. Either that or highlight the key points like you are reading the chapter pretending it is a scholarly article. Might help you see what is important and what is extra. (I know you need the ‘extra’ stuff but not everywhere.)

    hope you find a method that helps you.


  7. Oh yeah, it’s so easy to get stuck editing individual lines. It’s frustrating. I want to do a broad edit as well!

  8. I have, or had, the same problem. Then I signed up for Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course and discovered a better way of doing it. If you don’t want to fork out $200, Chris Eboch ( has apparently taken much the same approach as Holly Lisle’s course and offered it free in her blog. I haven’t tried it, and my friend who did said that wading through the blog posts was slow, however she thought the approach to revision was excellent. Either one helps you get away from the temptation to fix words and sentences.

  9. I TOTALLY know what you’re going through. Macro issues are always a lot harder for me than minute editing. Honestly, the best thing for me is to do the stickies-on-the-wall thing. Better than an Excel spreadsheet (I don’t have the mind for graphs at all :P), it helps me take a step back — literally. I can see each scene/chapter on a wall, stand back and look at it, and it really helps me see the importance of each chapter. It gives me that birds-eye, helicopter view that can be so hard to get. As I’m putting up my stickies, I can almost automatically tell when a scene can be rearranged or even deleted altogether. Rereading the manuscript, for me, never gives me that ability to see the entire novel all at once, how each scene connects to the others. It also helps you see the novel out-of-sequence. You can take each separate stickie as its own little entity, and it’s way easier to see when scenes are totally pointless to the plot.

    So I really recommend the stickies!

    • Thanks for dropping by and offering your thoughts, Becca! I can definitely see the benefit of this approach, especially when you’re a visual thinker. My only problem – and I hate admit this – is that my handwriting is terrible and I’d have trouble writing my stickies out so they were legible from a distance. Considering I have over 100 chapters, it would take a LONG time to write out a stickie for each chapter, let alone each plot point within those chapters. Yep, there’s just too much going on in this book! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Pingback: Out of the helicopter and into the jungle | Cally Jackson Writes

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