This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on Editing. A Literary PSA…

I’ve recently fallen into a bit of a rut when it comes to my work tasks. Timing and to-do lists have conspired to ensure that my normally diversified work diet has become a bit more homogeneous than I often enjoy. Indeed, these last few weeks, the lion’s share of my time has been dedicated to editing in some way, shape or form, and readers, it has put me off my proverbial feed.


The lion, known for its proverbial “share”. This lion’s share represents my time spent editing laltely.

You can probably guess that I am, by nature and inclination, a reader. Nothing pleases me so much as a rainy day spent curled up with a book, engaging in that most relaxing of pursuits, pleasure reading. But lately, I’ve found that my steady diet of editorial roughage, shall we say, has somewhat ruined my appetite for my usual off-the-clock literary snacks.

I’ve found that editing temporarily changes my brain, whether I’m performing big-picture substantive editing or more small-scale line editing and copyediting. When I approach my first or second read of a book with a substantive eye, my brain zeroes in on logic, questioning every facet of plot and character, examining motive and means. Would that character use that particular wording? Is the passage of time true to life? Is this coincidence believable or is it just convenient? This kind of laser focus can make for a stronger manuscript, but it can make pleasure reading ponderous as hell.

scribe copying book onto paper

Fun fact: you will likely never have as many books and papers on your desk as when you’re editing a book.

But if I find it hard to switch off that logic-questioning part of my brain when I’m knee-deep in editing a manuscript, it’s nearly impossible to approach pleasure reading with any kind of appreciation when I’m in the middle of copyediting a book. I often find it difficult to start copyediting a manuscript because it takes so long for me to fall into the groove. I have to force myself to pay attention to the most minute of details, to stop and start whenever I need to look up a name or check the Canadian spelling of a word, or refer to the Chicago Manual of Style on one of the million and one intricacies of hyphenating compound words. But once I’m in the zone, I’m in it ‘til the bitter end. At that point, if I pick up a book to read for fun, I invariably put it down because I keep finding myself wondering about misplaced commas or pausing over American spellings. I find it hard to follow plot and characterization when I’m constantly distracted by grammar and spelling. When I find myself reaching for pen and paper to record proper names that need checking, I know it’s time to put my book aside and find other ways to relax my brain.

So, bereft of pleasure reading, what’s a porcupette to do? Well, there’s television on occasion—I caught some of the Wimbledon men’s championship this weekend, which was quite the nail-biter. And there are always errands to run—lately I’ve been wandering around town looking for decorative knobs for a desk I plan to refinish. Plus, in the summer, there’s always a friend or two up for an outdoor adventure. So while I might wistfully think of all the books in my library waiting to be read, right now, I’m quite content to give them a short vacation while my mind works on overtime!


Thanks for visiting and listening to my bookish musings. Hope you enjoyed this peek inside my literary brain!


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2 Responses to This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on Editing. A Literary PSA…

  1. Pingback: The Porcupine’s Quill

  2. Laurie Lewis says:

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these notes! It’s a pleasure to encounter a brain that is both focussed and … oh, “randomized”… Every brain-trip is a walk in the woods. Thanks so much for your extreme goodwill, for your (clear) love of the world of publishing, for your meanderings through the world of the word. ABOUT “multi-tasking”: i make use of the many idiosyncratic chairs in my apartment: THIS one is for reading! THIS one is for writing! THIS one is for contemplating the world…
    I send my affectionate best, Steph…

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.