The Pen, Mightier Than the Keyboard?

penThis article by Holly Lisle titled How to Revise a Novel is an excellent read. There are lots of good ideas and it’s well worth your time. I would like to focus on one particular part of her process that is entirely alien to me. Ms. Lisle makes prodigious use of both pen and paper.

I have written a few manuscripts with, admittedly, much revision still left to do. However, in the process I have developed thus far, I do not use any kind of hard copy revision. To me the method is antiquated. It robs a writer of the benefits that technology has given us. Is there merit to what Ms. Lisle says about being able to catch things in print that you cannot on a screen?

Admittedly, I have issues that might not assail most writers. My eyesight is extremely poor. The ability to increase font size when reading is doubtless not as important to you as it is to me, but there are a number of other advantages that we all benefit from. Why put a mark on a page to remind you of a change you will make later, when you can simply make that change right then and there? Why carry around a ream of paper when your documents can be accessed from anywhere on any device at any time?

I use Google drive when making revisions. I have a long commute to work in the mornings on the train. I could use that time to mark up a manuscript but then I would have to find time to sit down and make those changes at some point. Revision on the go is the name of the game. Another benefit to revising electronically with Drive is that I can share documents with my beta readers. I can leave comments. They can leave comments. Whether it’s simple spelling errors or huge continuity issues, everyone can include their thoughts at their own pace. When I’m ready to deal with them, I can open up my document, sift through the comments and make immediate alterations. Now that’s collaboration.

Some might argue that there are drawbacks to such immediacy. Can it lead to over-revising? When you can change things on a whim, it might lead to a lot of fiddling where it may not be necessary to fiddle. We all know that the manuscript is never really satisfactory. You need to be careful not to play with it endlessly. There is a certain finality to the printed word that can help avoid this. Even when you know you can change it later, you will probably be more selective about what you alter. It forces you to see that many of your ideas were good as is. Add this to Ms. Lisle’s assertion that some mistakes are more easily seen on the page, and one can see where pen and paper might come in handy.

If you are one of those who revises the old-fashioned way, I’m sure you have a few other good reasons. I would love to hear them. If it’s about the way it has always been done, however, I feel the benefits of technology are too great to put aside simply for the sake of nostalgia.

Now, revision aside, can you believe there are actually some crazies out there hand-writing their first drafts in notebooks? Wow. I’m sure you folks have your reasons. I’ll leave you to them but if you start using a quill and an ink well, I’m going to raise an eyebrow.

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