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Kill Your Darlings, and Some Trees

31 August 2016

From PubCrawl:

So you’ve written the first draft of your novel! Now what?

Most writers will tell you to put it in a drawer for a week or month, to spend some time apart from it before you return to the manuscript with fresh eyes for the first round of revision. That’s great advice, but I’m going to take it one step further and say you should literally put the manuscript in a drawer. For that you need a physical copy of it, which means I’m telling you to print the darned thing out. That’s right. All of it. On paper.

What? But that’s so wasteful! Those poor trees.

There are always studies that suggest reading on paper is different from reading on a screen. Makes sense to me. I think many of us have become accustomed to skimming websites and social media updates and blog posts (I bet some of you are doing it right now!), which means our brains are now trained to not look at text too closely on screens. There’s also something less permanent about something we see on the screen versus a hard copy before us, and so I think we treat words on the screen less critically. Science tells us that creative writing is a left brain activity, while critical thinking and editing is a right brain thing. It seems that it might be helpful to distinguish those activities more — such as by only writing your novel on your computer but editing it on paper. At least, this helps me. I’m the guy who prints everything I’m line editing or revising at work, from e-mails to manuals. Maybe that’s wasteful, but I consider it part of the cost of business, like my salary; my job is to catch and fix mistakes, and I notice more on paper than I do staring at a screen, especially subtle changes in font size and spacing.

. . . .

If I’m editing on screen, I’m mostly tinkering, the same as I would do while drafting — deleting a word here, moving a sentence there, adding a description. But once I have it on paper, with pen in hand, I can look at the bigger picture. I have no problem putting slashes through entire pages or chapters, rewriting and commenting in the margins, often with helpful notes like “Make this better.”

Link to the rest at PubCrawl


21 Comments to “Kill Your Darlings, and Some Trees”

  1. Sorry, I see no need to waste the tree nor the toner for the printer. Save the work as a new (dated) name and change the font color to red/blue green.

  2. 99% of the time now, I can edit on the screen.

    Every once in a while, usually while figuring out a long sequence of events, I have to print it out. But I thought I’d never be able to do it – and now just have two files side by side in Scrivener, and move text from one to the other.

    Couple of Giant Redwoods saved in the process.

    • I’ve taken to sending my .doc files to my Kindle and reading it just as I would read any ebook. I do it when I beta-read for someone else as well.

      I find that I actually find more errors that way than I do if I print it out. Trees saved, not to mention the dollars for the sheaves of paper…

      • I do exactly what Scott does and it works for me. However, right-left brain neural mapping hoodoo aside, if I have to do a lot of page flipping, comparing a passage here to a passage a few pages away, paper still works better for me. I use Word split screens for this sometimes, but nothing beats a finger stuck between sheets of paper for me. But most of the time, reading on a Kindle or another tablet gets the job done well.

        I have to throw in that no one has convinced me that Scrivener is better than Word. I have no objection to Scrivener, but no one has ever pointed out a feature to me that Word does not do at least as well. I have projects that require Word so I have never gone to Scrivener. I used to like Abiword and wrote some code for them years ago. OfficeLibre is good, but I prefer the Word handling of styles. Having written code for word processing programs myself, I am in awe of all the Word developers have accomplished.

        • When using Word, do you save each chapter as its own file? or do you write the whole book and save it as one big file?

          I’m just curious.

          • I use one big file, and use Styles to separate the chapters and scenes. That way you can rearrange scenes just as easily as in Scrivener (which I’m trying to use and trying to like. Trying and failing).

            • One big file for me too. I set up styles to look like a printed page. Double-spaced ms format doesn’t sound right in my head, if that makes any sense. Ten years ago or so, I was hesitant about one big file because Word seemed a bit unstable with long files and complex formats, but I’m confident now.

            • Thanks, both of you. 🙂

  3. I’m not going to poo poo the advice. I just want to say that in a lifetime (so far) of close reading I haven’t seen much evidence that the general populace used to read print more carefully than they do pixels today.

    I also find Allen F’s advice to change the font as effective as switching to paper. Switching from desktop to tablet also works. Reading aloud is good too. (You can write in the margins of an electronic document.)

    • For me, it’s about what I’m reading, not what format. I skim articles whether online or in magazines, and read fiction word for word, finding it impossible to skip even one word without feeling compelled to skip back and reread. I think many people skim digital text simply because of what’s being read, not because it’s digital text.

  4. Maybe the left brain/right brain myth will eventually die, but probably not in my lifetime. After decades of reading print, I had no trouble transitioning to pixels, and I challenge anyone to prove that I read print more carefully or remember it better. Or that I would edit more carefully if I killed a tree or two.

  5. I have to say – yes to both. Put it away for a while, and then print out a hard copy. Work any editing programs you have on it before you do, just to enforce consistency about dashes, punctuation, spelling or whatever. Then wait a while, and print it out.

  6. Anyone feeling guilt about printing a copy of their own book now and then is letting themselves be guilted unnecessarily. The fact is writers used to do several drafts on paper. Books, magazines, and newspapers all used to be only on paper. My house used to have overflowing bookcases, books and magazines piled here and there. The local newspaper used to dump a daily newspaper at the end of my drive every day in spite of my repeated requests that they not do so (I had access to a paper at work).

    All that’s gone. The newspaper went under years ago. No reason to subscribe to magazines when I can get the info on line. I never buy paper books except reference books not available for Kindle.

    Most of us have probably cut our paper usage and waste by more than a hundred-fold. Some of us by a thousand.

    • Not guilt here, just the waste of printing it just to type corrections back into the computer. (I never got into writing it down by hand in the first place, so doing corrections/rewrites that way just doesn’t connect.)

      Still using Word 2000, the newer ones didn’t have any ‘must upgrade’ reasons for me.

  7. I used to do this all the time, sometimes many, many versions of the same story, back when I was in college and a very generous amount of printing was already included in my tuition. These days, I try to avoid it because it’s so expensive. I think I’ll try going through it on Kindle to edit, since I do find having it in another format helps catch things.

  8. And then read it out loud. Not kidding. The tongue trips over errors that the eye just does not see.

  9. I do my final proofing on my print proof from CreatSpace. Amazing how things slip through and they are easily caught when it is in book form. And it’s cheaper to buy a POD proof than print it myself. But everyone’s process is different.

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