Rewriting: Print Out Your Work

Aelse_ilovenature_glow_5663_hSorry, trees.

The topic of today's post impacts your health on this planet, and for that I'm truly sorry.

But I'm rediscovering the helpfulness of printing out my work in order to rewrite and revise it.  (I like to make a distinction between the two words.  To me, rewriting is what you do on the second draft, when you're looking at big stuff like character arc and plot.  Revising is what you do on the final draft, when you're looking at every word, and comma and period.  Big difference.)

This all began when I saw Anne Lamott last Friday night.  She spoke in Portland at the Baghdad Theater as part of her book tour for Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son.  The theater was packed, I'm happy to report, full of happy fans eating pizza and burgers and drinking wine and beer.  Which was just the wee-est bit ironic, seeing as how Anne is a famous recovering alcoholic.

But it didn't seem to bother her and she had some great things to say about her life and her writing.  (She delivers her lectures in almost a stream-of-consciousness style that appears effortless and is very entertaining.)  She talked about writing as a radical act (hear, hear) and also that she likes to repeat the mantra, "it could happen," after a character in an old movie, Angels in the Outfield. (Such as, bestselling novel?  "It could happen."  And so on.)

What really struck me, however, was when she talked about printing out your work in order to edit it.  Yes, we live in an electronic world, but it is still important to make a hardcopy of your writing and see it on the page.  Use the electronics to communicate with the world and tinker with your work on the page.  The real page.

I used to do this all the time.  It was the only way I could rewrite.  But lately, with the convenience of editing on the computer, I've gotten away from it.  This week, I decided to experiment and printed out 70 pages of my next novel.  Totally different experience.  You simply see things differently when you edit on the page.  Try it.

I'm not sure I recommend printing out pages every single time you edit.  So much of editing goes on as you re-read a draft on the computer, perhaps before you begin your writing session.  But as an exercise at certain key points along the way, it can be very useful.

And as for the trees? Buy recycled paper.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Next time you're finished with a draft, print it out to make your revisions.  See if it works for you.

Please comment.  How do you approach rewriting and revising?  Do you do it on the computer or on hard copy?  Which do you prefer? 

Photo by Josef F. Stuefer, and I found it on Everystockphoto.

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25 Responses to Rewriting: Print Out Your Work

  1. Karen 04/06/2012 at 08:38 #

    Charlotte, I really appreciate this post today since I am nearing (painfully slow though it may be) the end of my first draft. Thank you for sharing your ideas!

  2. Zan Marie 04/06/2012 at 09:31 #

    Thanks, Charlotte! I *always* print it out. Of course, I draft longhand, too. I’m a fossil. ; )

  3. Charlotte Dixon 04/06/2012 at 10:57 #

    Yay for nearing the end of the first draft! And thank you for coming by the blog and commenting so often.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 04/06/2012 at 10:58 #

    Zan Marie, your fossil-ish ways certainly work for you, so who cares. Good to hear from someone who makes a habit of printing pages out.

  5. J.D. 04/07/2012 at 04:59 #

    This is a lesson I have been taught many times. More often than I care to admit, I have printed my short story or chapter on my way out the door to a meeting of my writing group. After passing out copies or clearing my throat I read it for the first time. LOL.

  6. Elizabeth Westmark 04/07/2012 at 06:51 #

    I sometimes joke that if my husband and I had bought stock in a legal pad company, a computer paper company, and Hewlett Packard (that expensive ink), we’d be rich today. I generally do first drafts on the computer, but he is legal pad all the way.

    I am also experimenting with recording (while I wander around in the woods!). It helps me get past my late mother who dwells eternally in my head. Also, later, reading drafts out loud into a little mini voice recorder and then listening back helps me get re-excited about the material or tells me it’s dead and not going anywhere.

    I’m envious of you hearing Anne Lamott in person.

  7. Charlotte Dixon 04/07/2012 at 07:40 #

    And you bring up yet another good point, which is that when the work is printed out, it is a lot easier to read out loud. And reading out loud can be eye-opening. Actually, I don’t know if you brought up that point or not, but something in your comment made me think of it, so thanks!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 04/07/2012 at 07:42 #

    Oh, I’m so pleased that someone I know actually reads work into a recorder! I’ve read bits and pieces into a recorder, but never more than notes and I’d love to break the barrier to being able to do that. I know lots of people find it really helpful.

    I commented on reading drafts out loud in my response to J.D., but I’d forgotten about reading it into a recorder and listening back. Wow, I bet that really makes a difference.

  9. J.D. 04/07/2012 at 18:50 #

    Yes, it is easier to read but that doesn’t mean listening to it is easier! LOL. Wow, the stupid stuff I sometimes put on paper, mostly typos and terrible sentences, but still …. It is amazing what your eye will overlook when guided by an eager mind. Reading it from paper, especially aloud, will reveal goofy errors you didn’t know were there.

  10. Melissa Marsh 04/07/2012 at 21:00 #

    After I’m done with the first draft, I always print it out and then go through it with a pen (or pencil) and make suggestions, edits, etc. I often will end up with several hard copy drafts (because I also don’t completely trust technology) and it’s amazing to see the physical evidence of how much the story changes from first draft to finished product. If you constantly edit everything on-screen, you don’t really see that.

    Granted, when I get down to the end of editing, it’s all done on the computer now. Just a lot easier.

  11. Charlotte Dixon 04/08/2012 at 07:09 #

    J.D., you sell yourself short. But I agree, reading it aloud really does allow you to catch things you wouldn’t otherwise. Have you ever had the experience of reading your work to a group and wincing because you hear something that sounds off? That’s always fun.

  12. Charlotte Dixon 04/08/2012 at 07:10 #

    Melissa, it sounds like you’re very organized in your approach to rewriting. I love it! It must be really cool to be able to compare hard copy drafts. Thanks for chiming in!

  13. Debbie Maxwell Allen 04/08/2012 at 15:10 #

    I love your distinction between rewriting and revising, Charlotte! I second the motion of printing pages. Somehow my brain sees things differently on paper than on a screen. I almost went to see Ann Lamott when she came through Denver, but at the last minute I wasn’t able to go. Sounds like it was great!


  14. Charlotte Dixon 04/08/2012 at 15:16 #

    Hey Debbie, Another page printer-outer! The consensus seems to be that it really does help. And yes, Anne Lamott was great. She’s an inspiration anyway you look at it.

  15. J.D. 04/08/2012 at 18:38 #

    Yes, I’ve done exactly that! I have printed it out, taken it to the group and read it for the first time. It’s just amazing how your “eye” filters what is on the paper. Of course, we are not the first writers to suggest reading aloud. But that act alone is one of the reasons I treasure my writer’s group. Reading my work aloud there or having someone else read it (often better) is an educational, humbling, often embarrassing experience. Like what’s her name’s new song says: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Great stuff, Charlotte. God bless you on Easter and throughout the year.

  16. Charlotte Dixon 04/08/2012 at 18:53 #

    Oh, blessings to you, J.D. I so appreciate your loyal readership. You are the best!

  17. Kate 04/08/2012 at 21:01 #

    I have to print out my mss. I just do see the text clearly on screen. I invariably find that I make changes on the hard copy and then make additional changes as I enter the first set into the computer, so I get two rounds of revision from one printout.

  18. Kate 04/08/2012 at 21:02 #

    Oops. “Do not” see the text clearly on screen. I also do not catch typos when I type on my phone.

  19. Sharon Holly 04/09/2012 at 00:32 #

    Do you find it doubles the editing time?

    I printed out a hard copy for re-writing too, but found transferring all the changes on the computer to be tedious and time consuming.

    But, I think you’re right. It is easier to catch problems on paper so I will probably continue to do so.

  20. Charlotte Dixon 04/09/2012 at 06:40 #

    Excellent point about not being able to see clearly on the computer. Also that you end up making more changes as you enter the edits onto the computer. It’s like two drafts in one!

  21. Charlotte Dixon 04/09/2012 at 06:42 #

    I’d be willing to bet that’s why most people don’t do it, Sharon. It is more time consuming. But, as Kate mentioned in the comment above, it also is almost like two drafts in one so the extra time is worth it.

  22. Milli Thornton 04/13/2012 at 17:42 #

    Because of what Sharon said above (about the time it takes to transfer the changes), I wait until the final draft. Or what I think might the final draft. I still might do a few more run-throughs on the computer, but having that session with my red pen on the paper picks up a lot that doesn’t jump out from the screen.

    I’ve found it also makes it easier to separate tasks. For instance, with a screenplay, I can do one proofreading session where I look at nothing but sluglines. Another where I look at nothing but dialogue. Etc. (Not sure how that relates to novel-writing so maybe not a helpful tip for novelists.)

  23. Charlotte Dixon 04/13/2012 at 18:10 #

    I think that’s a great comment, Milli. I’ve done that before, going through each draft to look for a specific thing. It can really focus the edit.

  24. Magda 04/16/2012 at 07:09 #

    I could not agree more with you! This also applies to translation. With technology now, we are supposed to get rid of all that paper and translate what we receive in Word or pdf or excel without actually ever printing the original text. Regarding the translated text, I wish I could print everything and read through it but it can’t be normally the case. With a printed text – especially your own work – you would be able to spot mistakes a lot easier. It also helps to get a closer feel of your work with bare eyes. Sometimes I wish I lived in a different era. I mean, how did those translators and writers of antiquity produced all that work and copied it letter by letter?
    ps> Thank you for leaving a comment on a recent article of mine on Freelance Writing Dreams.

  25. Charlotte Dixon 04/16/2012 at 07:14 #

    Magda, your comment brings up images of monks laboriously copying text from illuminated manuscripts. I love it! What a debt we owe to their willingness to do that, and how far we’ve come. Maybe too far in some instances, like relying on our computers only. Fascinating to read that it affects translators, too. Thanks for commenting.

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