AUDIT IS NOT A BAD WORD
I recently worked with a small group of women writers comprised of spectacular minds and the deepest of hearts (I miss my people already). One of these women, a hilarious, insightful, productive creator is, by day, an accountant. And I’m a lapsed lawyer. Did we bond over our much-maligned unsexy vocations? Yes, indeed, we did. From the get go. Some of the things we had an us party over were our practical intelligence and problem-solving skills. Got a form to fill out that’s giving you a migraine? Who ya gonna call? More than one byzantine bureaucracy to deal with? The complexity sisters are on the case. Thinking structurally or in sets or dualities? We’ve got you. Because we’re trained to get you.
Which brings me to the word audit. Shiver. It makes you think of boring receipts, columns, “i” dotting and “t” crossing. Who had the grain bowl and is that a write off? Not the stuff the cool drama kids grow up to do. If you’ve ever worked in or run a business, this is the word nobody wants to hear. An interloper comes to your place of business (which these days might also be your residence) and does a terribly detailed tiptoe through the tulips of your expenditures and revenue. I’m not running from the building, you are. Ok, yeah, I am too.
Illustration by Olivia Bloom
RETHINKING THE WORD AUDIT
You’re a writer. It’s your job to make the mundane sound interesting. Or maybe your jam is making the supernatural accessible. The point it is, you’re a storyteller. You give words power. It’s in the way that you use them! So, let’s take a look at this word “audit,” because I’m here to convince you that it is actually one of the best tools you have to make your work better.
“Audit” comes from the Latin word audire which means “to hear.” Lawyers and their Latin. This always bugged me. Why would such a dreadful word be linked to a miraculous sense? That which connects us, allows us to experience and recognize the voices of those we love and the splendor of beautiful music? Aha. It’s redemption time. If auditing is a way of hearing, then maybe it’s linked to my favorite thing on earth — listening. The best of the superpowers if you ask me. When I tell my writers to audit their paragraphs, their scenes or their characters, you know what I’m asking them to do? I’m asking then to listen hard. To themselves! To their creative voices. To their work. Now we’re talking!
Illustration by Olivia Bloom
HOW TO AUDIT YOUR WORK
Auditing your work is like editing plus. It’s more than reading critically, blue pencil (or whatever you use) in hand. It’s about getting granular and breaking the whole into parts. It’s systematic.
Step one is figure out how you’re breaking your work into parts.
The parts can include:
Step two is to run it through this framework, a series of questions:
1. What is the purpose of this character/section/scene/paragraph/arc?
2. How am I trying to achieve the purpose?
3. Is it working?
4. Am I doing it as authentically as possible?
5. What sticks out when I really listen?
a. Why did it stick out?
b. Should it stay or go?
c. If it stays should it be tweaked?
d. If it goes do I need something else?
Can you do this in more than one way? Of course. Should you repeat the process focusing on different parts of your work? Did you hear? The trees just gently whispered “hell, yes!”
Here’s what I’ve learned. This works so much better than reading and re-reading in a less structured way. Your work is a journey for you and your readers. Think of it like a train ride on one of those really swank European trains that isn’t creepy. It has cars, and some are specialized. It has couplings (mechanical and poetic!) that connect one car to another. And it has a direction. No matter how fancy you get, or how much you choose to meander over hill and dale, it’s going somewhere. The best way to shine it up? Audit!
Word redeemed. My work here is done.