Yes, we all live in an electronic world these days, untethered by concrete reality, communicating like mad things on various iThingies. Paper is so 2002.
But if you want to do a good job of editing your book, you need to print it out. Yes, I’m serious. Print it on actual paper, seize a red pen, and you won’t believe what you’ll see that you didn’t see before.
As a professional editor, I always do at least one run through major projects On Paper. Sometimes more. Even with smaller writing projects such as a complex proposal or an important email, I will print it out and edit it on paper before I send it to the client. With a very major edit of a book, I have done up to seven passes through a manuscript, On Paper, printing out a fresh manuscript for each new pass. Does this sound excessive? Feel free to ask my clients whether or not they’re happy with the results of such craziness. 😉
There are two really excellent things that reading your manuscript on paper will do for you.
1. You see it differently
Seriously. You will notice things that you never saw while reading it on your laptop or iThingy. Not just omigosh-awful spelling errors and punctuation atrocities, but clumsy sentence constructions and repetition and *ahem* boringness. It’s almost as though the change of medium has triggered a whole fresh set of synapses in the brain. There’s a whole New Year’s Eve fireworks special going on in the noggin as you hold that paper in your hand.
Enhance the see-it-differently effect even more by adopting a different posture, going to another room, or even a whole different place. I often loll on the sofa with a clipboard to do a paper edit, or go outside in the fresh air. Sometimes I head to the coast for a couple of days of really intensive work. I know that sounds like a joke, but I’m dead serious!
2. It helps with structural editing
Structural editing can be a nightmare, especially if you are a Detail person. When you want to decide if that chapter belongs before this chapter, and if this paragraph belongs on page 22 or page 28, you need to get a Big Picture.
Small Picture editing is the punctuation and spelling and grammar and general flow of a sentence or paragraph. Big Picture editing is the movement and cohesion of each chapter and the book as a whole.
With a printout of your manuscript, you can flip back and forth between pages 22 and 28, you can lay whole chapters out on a table or the floor in front of you, and you can get a much bigger view than just looking at a little screen. Yes, I know you can do split screen in Word and all sorts of other fab things. This is better than that. Trust me.
There are various intriguing ways to print out your manuscript to challenge the brain to see it differently, and we’ll look at some of those in another post, but this is the time-honoured method:
- Use large margins, about 30mm, more than an inch — it gives you room to write in the margins. It’s a good idea to make a mark in the margin for every change in the text, so you don’t miss anything.
- Use wide line spacing — so you can write between the lines. Traditionally it was double-spacing, but I actually use 1.5 line spacing. It’s still plenty of room to write, but it saves some paper!
- Some people put a space between each paragraph. I don’t. I indent the beginning of each paragraph instead. That shows me where the new paragraph begins, without wasting so much paper!
- Use a serif font (with the little “tails” on the letters) such as Times New Roman. It’s much easier to read in large quantities of text, because the little tails lead the eye into the next letter and the next. It doesn’t need to be sexy, it needs to be legible. And make it a decent size, about 12pt, so you are not having to peer at the page.
- Use a red pen, it’s more visible.
- Keep some different coloured highlighters handy in case you want to highlight different themes.
- Write as neatly as you can. You’ll be glad you did later, when you’re trying to decipher it all!
So, how many reasons have you thought of for why you don’t want to print out your manuscript? Let me see if I can do a bit of a psychic job on you. (n.b. I am not in actual fact psychic, I’ve just known a lot of writers 😉 )
- It’s a waste of paper and ink/toner — Possibly, but not nearly as big a waste as printing 10,000 copies of a horrible book that wasn’t edited properly. Print it out.
- A big sheaf of paper is not nearly as portable as my iThingy — I often take a work-in-progress on the train. I put it in one of those cloth shopping bags. Voila! Portable. Print it out.
- My book will only be published as an ebook, so I don’t need to see it on paper — Editing your manuscript on paper is about getting the words the best they can be. It’s an essential part of the quality process, regardless of the final format of the work. Print it out.
- My home-office printer won’t cope with printing so many pages — That’s fair enough. Is there an office supplies store or a quick-print place near you? You should be able to take it there on a memory stick or similar, and they’ll print it in no time for a small fee. Maybe your workplace will allow you to print it there for a small fee. Alternatively, consider investing in a small, cheap, laser printer. The prices have come down enormously, and they are the best type of printer for large manuscripts. They print faster than an inkjet, and you can use a highlighter without the ink running on the type. But either way, get it printed out.
- I can’t afford it — I actually have more sympathy for this excuse. A tight budget can be very restrictive. But do consider the options listed in the point above. Also, perhaps you know someone who has a good printer at home and would be willing to let you use it for printing your manuscript. You might even be able to offer something they need in exchange, such as an evening’s babysitting, or a couple of hours of your professional skills. But get it printed. It’s important.
So, have I convinced you yet?
What are your experiences with editing a printout vs onscreen?