Editing: Paper vs. Technology


Now that Camp Nano is over, I’ve turned my attention back from short stories to a novella I’m editing. (Well, first I slept a lot. Then I went back to editing.)

I am–and always have been–an ‘edit on the computer’ kind of girl. It’s always seemed more practical to me, especially considering what a tangled mess my first drafts tend to be. After all, anything paper can do, computers can do better, right? (Obviously not, or the title of the post would be a bit superfluous, but let me run with this anyway…) I can color large blocks of text that need fixing. I can insert new scenes. I can leave myself little notes right in the text. And I save the unnecessary expense of paper and ink, which can be substantial if you’re printing a double spaced novel.

So, that’s all good and rational. But then I was talking to a beloved writer friend who is currently editing her trilogy, and she vastly prefers editing on paper. She was telling me about sitting down with the nice stack of pages and a fistful of highlighters and a brilliant color scheme for corrections, and good and rational Olivia might have dozed off. Instead, four-year-old Olivia returned to pout and want everyone else’s toys in addition to her own.

All metaphors aside, editing on paper sounds really nice. It sounds so official and professional, and I like the idea of getting away from the computer screen for a bit. And I haven’t actively used highlighters since the high school days. Whenever I see all my markers and such in the drawer, they look so lonely.

(Okay, NOW I'm done with metaphors...)

(Okay, NOW I’m done with metaphors…)

But now the question becomes ‘when?’ I doubt I’ll feel comfortable printing this out more than once, and my drafts go through many levels of messiness before they’re finished. Do I print the very first draft? There are SO many changes needed right now: new scenes and reworked scenes. If I print it now, it’s not really the full story. But I know myself: if I edit on the computer before printing, I’ll specifically put off correcting things so that I’ll have the joy of highlighting it on paper later, and that seems neither productive, nor sane.

Candles 080814



Does anyone out there edit on paper? I find I draw inspiration from hearing other writers talk about their methods and why certain techniques work for them, so if anyone could share tales of office supplies and colors and creative chaos, it would be much appreciated!


13 responses »

  1. I printed my first draft out to edit it on paper (single spaced, but one-sided). For me, I get very lost when I’m typing in a document. It doesn’t feel like pages, but like a continuous stream of text. That makes it hard for me to think straight when I’m trying to reference chapters and pages side by side. I like being able to physically move and compare pages, and I like the feel of crossing something out or scribbling in the margins. Plus, I love me some good sticky notes 😀 I plan to edit the rest of the drafts, however many there may be, on the computer because I feel they’ll need less heavy reconstruction. And like you, I don’t want to be printing out a bazillion copies of different drafts.

    Honestly though, if I had better spatial thinking, I would’ve preferred to do everything on the computer. So if that’s what works for you best, I say go with it 🙂

    • Yeah… there definitely is something satisfying about literally crossing words out on a page rather than just hitting the backspace key. It feels more productive, somehow. And I very much share your love of sticky notes 🙂 I hadn’t really considered the value of being able to shuffle the pages around to compare scenes, etc. I guess that would mean I’d need to number the pages, huh? But I can totally see how that would help. I often find myself scrolling back and forth between a couple scenes wondering if the exposition is consistent / if I overuse phrases.

      • Haha, yeah, numbering the pages is a good thing to do before printing! Gosh, what a nightmare that would be… 😛 Perhaps it would help you then to print out one of the later drafts, when you feel like you’ve got most of it all worked out 🙂

      • Yes, quite possibly 🙂 Although the idea of having pages scattered and shuffled around the whole room definitely appeals to me on a purely visual level. Alas, I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to clean up the chaos afterwards.

      • Mhm, yeah, you can literally be immersed in your story and it’s just a really cool thought 😀 Haha well, why’s it need to be cleaned up? If you just leave it laying all around, no one will doubt that a writer lives there 😉

  2. I do a bit of both, actually. I read through my first novel constantly on the computer, then printed it out four times, AND read through a proof paperback before publishing. (I highly recommend getting a proof – you wouldn’t believe how many errors I spotted that were missed in the other versions! Something about the actual book format made them pop out…)

    • Whooaa, tell me more about this “getting a proof” idea! I actually had no idea this was a thing. Like, is that something your publisher gives you once you’ve been accepted, or can anyone order one?

  3. I usually do at least one edit where I print out the story and scribble all over it. I find that the different format helps me spot things I would otherwise miss. I try to keep down the waste paper by printing on the back of old documents -my old uni notes have done sterling service over the past year as scrap!

    • hah, that’s a good point… I do feel bad about the notion of wasting paper, but I can think of a lot of old things that are just piles of clutter and could serve a better purpose in my life.

  4. My stories and other pieces of writing have an unfortunate habit of getting lost or forgotten on my hard drive, so I like to print them out. The physical copy helps me to remember that I have a story waiting to be edited. Plus I find scribbling/editing on paper to just be more satisfying than on the computer. Like I have proof that I have indeed gone back and worked on the piece.

  5. I draft on the computer until I can’t stand it anymore, then print it once. My notes on paper are far too detailed to understand. I definitely think it is a good idea to look at the text in both ways. Thanks for the follow by the way. It’s nice to see that we all have some of the same issues. 😉

    • Yep, there’s definitely quite a bit of solidarity in the craft 🙂 Thanks for the input! It’s really interested to me how people say different things pop out at them in the different formats. I hadn’t really considered that; I was just thinking about having fun with highlighters, but now I’m thinking it’s a worthwhile exercise besides just self indulgent. (Yay!)

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