Monday, July 23, 2012

On-Screen Vs. Hard-Copy Editing

Let me preface this post by stating the obvious: everyone is different. My method for editing manuscripts works for me, but may not work for you. However, if you’re a new writer you may be looking for ideas. Play around with the information a bit if you like, then keep what works and discard the rest.

How old are you? If you’re thirty-five or younger you probably learned how to type on a computer. I learned how to type on a manual typewriter, likely a leftover from WWII. I’m sure it weighed at least sixty pounds.  I bought my first computer when I was twenty-eight for $1,200 (I think—that was a long time ago). It had a 20 megabyte hard drive. That’s megabyte, not gigabyte. The first version of Windows I had came on a floppy disc.

If you learned how to type on a computer, it’s likely you’re far more used to editing on a computer screen than I am. I’ve learned to work on a screen over the years, but it’s not how I started out.

I know writers who write their first draft longhand, then send the pages to someone who types them up for them. John Grisham used to write his manuscripts longhand. Being an attorney, I’m sure he was used to that medium. Stephen King wrote Carrie on a typewriter. Both writers produced hard copies of their draft immediately.

I don’t produce a hard copy until I reasonably sure I’m close to my final two or three edits. I’ll typically go through my manuscript three, four, or five times before I print it out. Why? It’s far easier to make changes on the screen.

My first draft is generally too long as I let the words flow without restraint. I’m not a plotter, meaning I don’t have everything figured out before I start writing. I begin with a premise, start writing and see when my characters and the story takes me. There’s no way I would want to edit my first draft from a hard copy.

When I’m finally satisfied my manuscript is almost done, I print it out in eleven-point Courier. Ten is too small for my aging eyes and twelve, the standard, is too big and wastes paper. If I have scratch paper around, I print my drafts on the back of that. I freely admit I’m a penny-pincher.

I find more errors when I edit on paper than on-screen. I can’t explain why, but I catch wording problems I didn’t see the first four times I went through the manuscript, see more typos and improper word usage (“you’re” instead of “your”), and discover inconsistencies I should have caught before.

Hopefully, by the time I’m editing on paper I don’t have whole paragraphs to change. Typically, all I have to do is change or delete a few words on each page. Occasionally I delete whole paragraphs when I can’t get them to work.

Which brings up another issue. Ever have sentences or paragraphs that you just can’t get to make sense, or always end up sounding wrong after several edits? I’ve learned it’s usually best to delete them. Try this next time it happens to you: delete the difficult passage and reread that part of your manuscript. Most of the time you won’t notice anything has been taken away.

I like editing on paper more than on-screen because I can do it anywhere, and I can use my favorite pen (I have many favorite pens). I can use a fine-tipped fountain pen or a roller ball pen, or a felt pen if I wish. And I can edit at my desk at work, or in a cafĂ©, or a bookstore, or any other comfortable spot I choose. I’m not tethered to the computer.

My final proof is printed in twelve-point Times New Roman, not Courier. It’s more economical on the page and my readers will be reading my work in a proportionally-spaced typeface, not a mono-spaced typeface.

When I’m finished, the manuscript goes out for others to read. Usually family members who don’t mind telling me when something doesn’t work.

Good luck with your writing and editing!


  1. I always have to print mine out, even the first draft. I loathe reading anything of length on a computer screen. When I wrote Supernatural Arkansas I probably killed 10-20 trees, all by my lonesome.

    1. Scrivener lets me turn my manuscript into a Kindle doc (.mobi). I'm enjoying an edit on my iPad. I found it gives me another way to look at the text.

  2. I never thought of doing that. Great idea, I'm going to give that a try.