Editing on paper

Lately I’ve been in editing mode. It’s not my strongest area, so I felt I should try to get to grips with it more. Writers often become blinded to their own words; familiarity with the piece and also the fact that we know what we meant to write contributes to this a lot.

The first story I looked at had already been through quite a few “edit cycles” so I was fairly confident of its quality. Rather than follow my usual work pattern I thought I’d make use of some less productive time and print out the story it out so I could work on it while having lunch or lounging in the living room.

What happened was a complete revelation. I immediately spotted all kinds of potential improvements and, not only that, I also found that editing on paper wasn’t nearly as dull and tiresome as computer editing. Twenty one repetitions of the word “really” in one short-story?

The results were dramatic to say the least. I showed the redrafted piece to my “smart reader” (Hilary, my wife) and she was blown away by the difference in the before and after versions. I used an old clipboard to keep everything handy and that worked fantastically too. I could edit anytime I had a few minutes available just by picking up the clipboard and pen. No waiting for computers to warm up, no loading word processors or worries about power cords and battery life. Just me, pen and paper.

I’ve subsequently edited several of my short stories in this way and it’s been successful in every case; so much so that I’ve bought a couple of extra clipboards so I can keep two or three drafts on the go. Talk about high-tech!

The interesting question here is why does it make such a difference editing on paper rather than the computer? Is the computer acting as some kind of block? Does the physical “weight” of the paper somehow lend more weight to the editing process so I take it more seriously? Is it simply that the change of media that makes me look at my words more closely?

I don’t have any answers to these questions.  Perhaps it’s just something that’s peculiar to me and the way I work. I’ve wondered whether a tablet might have the same effect; something light and convenient to sprawl with might produce the same results with the added benefit of not having to retype the paper edits.

I wonder if anyone else has found this to be the case.

One Response

  1. I’ve had the same experience. As well as spelling and grammar issues, a lot of visual things are always easier to spot in a printed copy. In my first book, I’d somehow used em-dashes instead of normal dashes, and en-dashes instead of hyphens. It looked fine on the screen, and awful on paper. I always print a proof copy of a new book on Createspace or Lulu now, and read it at least once before making a final copy.

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