Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Old dogs in the digital age

Lots of material for blogs here on Type M this week! I was going to skip over the politics discussion, but decided to put in my two cents' worth first. Here in Canada, we are heading into our own election campaign, mercifully only forty days long instead of the 1 1/2 year marathons that seems to be the norm south of the border. I think if our campaigns lasted 1 1/2 years, I'd have no more hair left; forty days is quite enough! The savagery and the polarization is certainly one of the most depressing elements of campaigning these days, and we Canadians are not immune. The famous Canadian politeness does not extend online. But more infuriating to me are the lies. Not just lies of omission or cherry picking of facts or spin-doctoring, but outright, baldfaced lies that politicians have the temerity to come out with. They must be banking on enough people not knowing enough to recognize the lies. The sad result of this is that many of us don't believe a word politicians say.

Another interesting topic on Type M is the print vs. digital divide in reading, writing, and editing. There has been some surprising research in recent years about the differences - notably that people remember printed books better than ebooks or screen articles, and that college students who take hand-written notes remember and understand the lecture material better than those taking notes on a laptop. In the former case, it may have to do with the fact that the reader has more of a sense of the whole and where they are in that whole when they are reading a print book. They can flip back and forth to refresh their memory or doublecheck information. Reading on a screen feels like being caught in the present tense. It's not nearly so easy to check the context or to see how one part relates to a previous part.

In the case of note-taking, the theory is that because handwriting is slower, the student can't record verbatim, straight from ear to fingertips without passing through brain, but has to analyze the material, paraphrase, condense, and re-organize it, so that the key points are extracted.

I am one of those dinosaurs who writes my first drafts long-hand, in part because I started writing before the computer age and that habit of sitting with pen and paper in hand and drink at my elbow is well established. Writing on a computer was associated with more analytical, professional writing like the reports and articles I prepared for my other work. But I also think that handwriting serves creativity precisely because it slows down the brain, makes us think more carefully and deeply about a scene, listen more attentively to the characters, and so on. It also feels more visceral, as if we're more directly connected to the words we write.

Editing, however, is an interesting hybrid experience for me. I do what I call micro-editing on the screen – editing line by line not only for copy errors but also for clunky language, redundancies, over-used words, ambiguous sentences, and minor inconsistencies from page to page. eg the character is having breakfast one minute and dinner on the next page. A lot of tightening and polishing gets done on-screen. But the big-picture editing, which I only do once I've run through at least the first micro-edit to tidy up the manuscript, has to be done by printing out the entire manuscript, or at least the part I'm working on. I get a better sense of the whole – plot flow, pacing, character consistency, logic, effect – when I have a pile of pages to scan and flip through as needed, whether it is just one chapter or the whole book.

It's also easier to see at a glance what changes I've made, what words I've deleted and what paragraph moved. Track Changes, besides being very distracting and messy looking, replaces the old with the new and it's more difficult to decipher from the side column what the previous text was. And if I've saved multiple versions of a draft, it's much easier to compare them side by side on paper than flipping from screen to screen.

Perhaps the more computer savvy writer has tricks and software techniques to do these things more efficiently online, but I have enough trouble keeping up with the upgrades that the software industry keeps foisting on me. I guess I tend to do things as I always have. Old dogs and all that.

1 comment:

Sybil Johnson said...

Our editing and writing processes sound like they're very alike. I write my first drafts of scenes long hand and I also do some major editing by printing out a chapter and writing my revisions on the page to type in later.

I definitely find that I remember more when I write something out. Not sure about remembering of what I read from a printed book versus an e-book. I will have to ponder that.