Replay: Writing tip: Print early, print often!


Something Entertaining Welsey Shaw has taught me:

It’s my first novel, and work habits are an important thing, especially when you haven’t done it before. To save paper, to save trouble, and because I thought I didn’t need to, I did draft after draft on the computer. I’d finish one draft and immediately start the next on my Mac.

I never read Entertaining Welsey Shaw on paper until my current (sixth) draft.

Big mistake.

Seeing your words on paper the first time, even if you have your screen set up to look exactly like it will print out on the page, is completely different than reading them on a computer. The whole sense of flow and structure is different.

I’m noticing this with a lot of recent novels by new writers, especially the self-published stuff. I’m banking that some of it is never looked at on paper, that it goes right from the writer’s computer screen to the reader’s ereader screen.

When I read EWS on paper for the first time, I was amazed how different this experience was from reading on screen. Scenes that I thought were of adequate length, even long, seemed to go by quickly on paper. There was less dramatic build on paper. The over-all architecture gets lost if the work is over five pages.

I’m not exactly sure why this does, but it does. This reminds me of a conversation Welsey has in the novel, where she notices someone watching one of her movies on a portable DVD player—a small device you can carry around with you—and says if she knew people would be watching her that way she would have adapted her style of acting. She says she believes her movies should be watched in a darkened theater on a large screen, that any other way is wrong. That girl’s a purist, something it’s impossible to be nowadays.

Marshall Mcluhan is famous for saying the medium is the message. (Side note: Mr. Mcluhan was still a common name back when I was studying media in college, but lately I think he’s largely forgotten. I’m starting to feel old. Someday, if we aren’t there already, people will watch this brilliant scene in Annie Hall and not get it. Sigh.) I think this has become true in ways Mr. McLuhan couldn’t have imagined when he said it.

Were I to do things over, I’d print every draft—trees be damned—and read and annotate everything before proceeding. It would save endless amounts of time and revision that leads nowhere. I thought I could see the whole structure clearly in my head. I can’t. Printed stories read differently. Radically so. As it is I can’t read lengthy magazine articles or complex documents on a screen; I just don’t absorb the detail of information the way I can when I see the words on the page.  Why should my own writing be any different? The medium changes the message, both for the author and for the reader.


2 responses

  1. Hi John,
    I went to a writer’s conference probably 15 years ago where the presenter told us newbies to make a donation to the Save a Tree foundation, but be sure to print everything out. I have ever since. I always print out my drafts and edit on the page for exactly the reasons you state.


    November 15, 2013 at 6:58 am

  2. Couldn’t agree more about printing versus electronic format. Hopefully, it will prevent a seventh draft :-)


    November 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

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