Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Every writer works differently. I, who do not belong to the Electronics Generation, work on paper. Not completely -- first drafts are done on the computer. But I can't edit on screen, I just can't. So I print the novel and edit long-hand, making dozens of changes on nearly every page. Some are small (add a comma, change a word), some are revisions of a sentence, some are extensive revisions involving major shuffling of story elements or the writing of new scenes. The shuffling takes place with scissors and tape, the new scenes are written on yellow lined paper, frequently both are employed. This all occurs on the sofa, with a clipboard on my knees.

Then comes the part I am at now, which is the part I dislike: typing in all those changes. I feel like Winston in Orwell's 1984, whose job was to amend official publications one laborious word at a time. (Orwell didn't foresee computers as word processors -- who did in 1948?) The typing-in process is slow, finicky (add a comma, remove a comma), but no one but me could possibly read my scribbled-up sheets. Day after day of being Winston.

I don't recommend this method of writing a novel. But it's the one I evolved over 30 years, it works, and anyway a story is not real to me until it's on paper. So: Type TYPE TYPE!


Dolly said...

I don't think you are alone in this method. I would call myself computer generation, as are several other writers I know. But very few of them seem to edit completely on screen. I do first edit on screen, to do all I can so I can make the printed copy cleaner than before. But eventually it has to be in print.

To make it easier, I have printed a copy of my book and put it in a 2-ring binder, so I can use post-its, and shuffle around cut-up pages or new pages without it getting all mixed up. It's my first time seeing through editing a book to make it good enough for publishing so I don't know if this method will be my ultimate method, but it seems to work right now.

Orion said...

I straddle the paper and computer generations. I like to have tangible, printed material in my hands as I read it. I use printed drafts as a guideline when revising (ones that have been reviewed by other writers, with helpful suggestions and comments, and those with my own scrawled notes in the margins). But I absolutely cannot imagine doing the the writing or the revisions themselves on paper.

DerbyDave said...

I work in a TV newsroom, and it's habituated me to working solely on the computer.

It also means I usually don't have to wait for "inspriation" to strike to write, even fiction. It's not a mysterious or mystic process.

Sometimes in writing fiction, I'll be "stuck" -- not to the point of being "blocked." When that happens, I know I simply haven't learned enough about my characters, or plot, or background -- something! That means more research, or just making up more "stuff" about the story. Then I can proceed -- much like you can't write a news story until you have at least a few facts, even if it's still developing.