You’ve been told 1000 times. “But I work better on the computer,” you say. I did, at least, but this red pen has changed my perception.
During my first attempt to create a novel oh so many years ago, I printed out a triple spaced copy to take with me to work. I didn’t know much about structure, and was mainly looking for spelling errors and typos. My recent novella project had a very different effect. For the last year or so, I’ve done all of my editing on a screen. While doing it that way produces workable documents, I found something new with my editing strategy today.
I’ve heard it over and over. Print it out and read it off of paper. I wondered what difference it could really make. It also seemed unproductive to jot notes all over printed pages and then try to transfer that back onto the machine. I’ve been living in denial.
Laziness takes a right turn
Every day this week, I’ve been packing up my laptop and running it to a coffee shop or book store. Trucking electronics isn’t necessarily difficult, but it becomes tedious. Drag it out, plug it in. Worry if someone nearby will knock it off my table as they pass or *gasp* try to steal it when I use the restroom. After a late night, I felt like taking it easy today, and since this version is only about 80 pages, I thought, why not. After all, I have that Platinum Preppy fountain pen full of oxblood(my ink of choice for editing) that I don’t use near enough. I’ll give this a shot.
Queue the problems. Printer not feeding right. The black in ran out on page 65. I forgot to print in reverse order, so I had to stack the pages again to get them in the correct order. You name it, it happened. Finally though, I ended up with a small stack of paper in need of some color.
I left the laptop and headed to a nearby coffee house to do some work. Just a little taste for the morning. After spending ten minutes on the first page it was soaked with red ink. Little notes about how to restructure, what elements I need to move to the first page, poor word choices and suggestions. The page was dripping with oxblood. As I progressed I started using the cover page as a repository of things I need to keep straight in the story. I noticed themes in my writing. Plus, I must be grumpy today, because I really let myself have it in certain places. It looks like the English paper you never wanted to get back from your teacher in school.
A new outlook
I resisted for a long time, but I learned some things today that have changed my perception of printing an MS for editing with a pen.
First, a pen is easier than a typewriter or keyboard. It flows over the paper. You can use margins to add side notes without cluttering up your document file. It’s easy to go back and change your mind (You edit something and find out the problem was resolved in the next paragraph). It feels natural to hash things out in scribble rather than making changes immediately on the word processor.
Second, while editing, my mind drifted into what I can only describe as “angry teacher mode.” The use of pen strokes made editing sadistically satisfying. My Preppy has an extra-fine nib that could stab a person, and it felt good to rip it over the pages and write comments like “NO!” or “Kill this word, bury it in lighter fluid, and set fire to it!” I found myself overusing exclamation points and ripping my draft to shreds. Not so fun to look over later but in the moment, I’m doing everything I can to make this MS better. The best it can be. That’s the goal.
Third. If every other writer on the planet is telling you to do something, at least give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you, then try it again a year later. As your writing progressively improves, your tactics will change, and what you can gather from a technique will change. Just as you would dump a habit that is no longer working for you, try some new ones from time to time. Your system will change over time, and you should adapt to the changes. Writing technique is a very fluid thing. Think of all these techniques as tools in your shed or garage. You don’t always use the same tools, but keep them and bring them out from time to time. You’re tool belt should be adaptable.
- Use a sharp pen, something with a very fine point that can write tiny when you need it to.
- Double or triple space before printing.
- Look for structure and consistency. Typos are good to catch but look at the big picture.
- Annotate everything, don’t forget to compliment yourself on the good parts.
Did you enjoy this article? Any tips to share?