Thursday, September 12, 2019

Paper or Plastic (really LCD)?

This week I'm editing –– lying on my couch, a No. 2 pencil in hand, manuscript pages cycling through my clipboard in stacks of 25, and I’m “chopping the wood,” as one writer-friend describes it.

And I’m thinking a lot about the process.

By day, I am a teacher, an English teacher. This means that over the course of my 20-year career, I have graded exactly a classroom full –– floor-to-ceiling –– of essays. Grading is by no means editing, and I pride myself on being paperless in that pursuit. When it comes to working on my own manuscript, though, I prefer paper over the screen. I have come to believe that I read faster on the screen than I do when holding a paper book. I know I can go through my manuscript much faster when reading pages on the screen than the printout on my clipboard. But I also know the finished product isn't as good. I learned that the hard way.

All of which makes me wonder why this is –– at least for me –– a disparity in editing a manuscript on the paper vs. reading it on the LCD monitor. What is it about editing and revising on a computer that is different from holding paper pages? Is the tactile experience part of revision? I know writers who insist on writing on legal pads and typing afterward. They describe the experience of handwriting a manuscript as slower, maybe more deliberate and thoughtful. I compose on computer. Couldn't imagine writing it out longhand. (Embarrassing confession time: working with my fifth-grade daughter, I realized I have forgotten how to write cursive. My late grandmother, a first-grade teacher, is turning over in her grave.)

The process is slower. Maybe that alone explains it. It takes me two hours to go through 25 manuscript pages when I'm working on hard copy. That's maybe twice as long I might spend going through the same pages on a screen. Is that why the finished copy is better? Maybe that’s part of it. But I sense there’s more to it. And I’m not sure what or why.

So I turn the discussion to you, dear Type M Community, to add your two cents here: Why is paper better than plastic?


Rick Blechta said...

You might want to try speaking what you've written -- especially for revising your first draft. This works well whether you're using a screen or a printout. I forgot who taught me this trick, but I've found it works really well, especially if you do it carefully. Also, DO NOT READ "IN YOUR HEAD"! It has to be done out loud to work correctly.

Tanya said...

Hi, John! You bring up a really interesting point. I'm a developmental editor who works with college- and graduate/medical-school-level materials. I couldn't imagine editing any of those books or online resources on paper; it would be a disaster. Editing on the computer (usually in Word) is essential when the critical/rational editorial eye is needed to improve another person's work and make it suitable for publication.

But anything I read for pleasure (fiction and nonfiction) has to be a printed book. I can't stand to read onscreen when not working. And when a friend recently asked me to be a first reader of her novel, I found that I wanted to read it printed out, not onscreen, even though she had asked me to provide some critique of the content.

I think this has something to do with how the tactile nature of handling pen and paper or a book makes us somehow more connected to the parts of the brain related to creativity and emotions. And possibly connects better to the parts related to memory (see article at link). Your method makes sense to me!

Anna said...

Tanya, oddly enough I am in a similar line of work but have a different response, having gotten my start in medical publishing back in the days of paper and colored pencils. In those years I considered editing a handcraft and said that if the job ever went to computers, I would find another line of work. Famous last words! Now that I've run several thousand medical research articles through my computer, I'm accustomed to that now, but I would still edit on paper if required to. For moving phrases, sentences, and blocks of text around, nothing beats using a pencil and carefully placed enclosures and arrows.

Like you, I must read real print when reading for pleasure. Reading onscreen is too much like work!

Aline Templeton said...

I do so agree about reading online. I get tired and bored; I want to sit and read the printed word on paper.
When writing, I started of course in longhand and for a long time after I took to the computer I would retreat to it if i had hit a sticky patch - something to do with a more direct contact between the hand and the brain, I thought. Now I am so used to working on the computer that I don't do it any more. For better, for worse, who can say?