Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editing by Computer or Pencil?

I read an interesting quote from P.J. O’Rourke, which was posted in the Passive Voice newsletter (it’s a great newsletter, by the way). The quote is:

Writing on a computer makes saving what’s been written too easy. Pretentious lead sentences are kept, not tossed. Instead of sitting surrounded by crumpled paper, the computerized writer has his mistakes neatly stored in digital memory. - P. J. O’Rourke

I’m not sure I agree with O’Rourke’s opinion about pretentious sentences being kept rather than tossed. I spend far more time tweaking and deleting words on the computer than I would if I was still bashing novel chapters out on my typewriter, or writing in longhand. But I do agree with the essential point: writing and editing by computer is not the same as doing so with pencil and paper, or even a typewriter.

For many years, I wrote and rewrote short stories in longhand. It was cumbersome at times, but there was something about the impact of brain to hand to paper creativity that is different than clicking a keyboard.

I used pen and paper in the first place because my secretarial job required me to type correspondence, minutes of meetings, and tax returns, among other things. I therefore didn’t associate typing with creativity.

But as time progressed, I decided to experiment with first and subsequent drafts on the computer, to see if I could speed up the process. It took me years to complete my first three novels, so I had to do something.

I wrote and edited my 5th Casey Holland mystery primarily on the computer. For the final draft, I’ve been printing out chapters and bringing them to my day job. I arrive early, find a quiet place to work, away from my office, and reread everything carefully with pencil in hand. As I’d already completed four drafts, I thought I’d get through it quickly. Boy, was I wrong.

By the midway point, I found myself needing to make important changes. My pencil’s gotten a workout, and it’s been an invaluable lesson. For me, editing on computer is simply not the same as editing on paper. These days, I write and edit in longhand and on the keyboard. Both options are effective, yet neither provides a complete and thorough editing process.

The decision to print out each chapter and edit away from a computer was a spontaneous one. Who knew that it would turn out to be one of the best things I could have done for this book?

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