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Revising on paper vs. computer

June 8, 2009

First, I hope you enjoyed the interview with Danette Haworth on Friday. If you didn’t catch it, click here. Look for more author interviews on upcoming Fridays.

Last week, I posted about revising your manuscript and mentioned Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Manuscript Revision method, and one of the interesting things about her method is that, she says, it has to be done on paper. In fact, she says it won’t work on the computer.

I’ve complete a number of drafts of my novel, including many early revisions of the first third of my manuscript before I had even finished the first draft (something I won’t do with the second book); a structural revision after my first draft when I fixed timeline problems, flow problems and moved scenes around; and straight writing revisions, when I tried to find the best wording, sentences, descriptions, dialog, etc. After all those, I felt very confident about my novel, and I had gotten great feedback. I felt I was ready to send it out and started working on the query letter and synopsis.

Two points: First, all these revisions were done only on the computer. Second, I didn’t have time to go through every chapter with my critique group, which would have been great. But at five pages twice a month, that would take another couple years!

When I stumbled on Holly Lisle’s method, I decided to give it a try, as I had, for the first time, an actual print out of my entire manuscript (I had printed it for my husband). I was also sick and not fit to be doing query letters. So, for the past week, I’ve been going through the pages, and — surprise surprise — I’ve found a lot of areas that could have been better.

I’ve made a career out of editing — it’s my day-job — and all my editing is currently done on the computer, but that’s for shorter pieces and writing I didn’t do myself. If there’s one thing all editors know, it’s easy to read over a typo because your brain will fill in what it’s supposed to say. And often, you’ll read over the same mistake over and over again. That’s why it’s good to have other people editing your work too.

Also, it’s easy to get distracted while reading, and this can happen when reading on a computer screen or the printed page. How many times have you read the same paragraph three times?

All of these are hurdles to editing your own work, but changing the venue, so to speak, doing one draft on the computer and another on paper, can help you find problems you didn’t catch the other way. This is perhaps for no other reason than you’re tricking your brain into thinking it hasn’t read this material a bunch of times already.

So, if you’re used to revising your work on a computer, no matter how convenient it is and no matter how environmentally responsible you want to be (that’s one of the reasons I hadn’t printed all 235 pages of my manuscript), try editing it on paper and see what a different perspective can give you.

Also, and this is one of the most important revision tips of all, no matter how eager you are to get your book out to agents and editors … PUT IT AWAY FIRST. Let it sit for at least a couple weeks, but a month is better. Let it sit for a while between every revision you do. This distance also will help your brain to see the writing for the first time, so to speak, giving you a better edit. You’ve worked hard to write this book; give it the best shot at publication by giving it time to be revised and revised before you send it out. There’s only one first impression. Make the most of it.

Write On!

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8 comments

  1. True words about revision! I’m going to go and look at this method you’ve mentioned here now to see just how this works…


  2. It’s an interesting idea, Theoates. But like I said in my post last week, I think it might be something to work toward. I’m not sure I could have as much success as Holly does in one pass just yet. But, I think after I’ve gotten a few books behind me, I’ll know my writing well enough to be able to do it. Would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Let us know what you think.


  3. I think the important thing is not so much paper, but changing the look. For example, changing from Time New Roman to Courior font can often provide that difference in look to the words and help us see what’s wrong.

    I find printing pages more important in discovering big picture problems–holding a chapter of ten pages and looking at a chapter of twenty pages is easier to compare in my mind than just knowing one chapter is 10 and one is 20.

    That said, I also find switching computer media easier to understand, too. Switching from MS Word to Scrivener, for example, is a very useful way of looking at your whole work without printing.

    Long and short: I do both! 🙂


  4. That’s great, Beth. Yeah, the important thing is to do whatever works for you.

    Scrivener sounds like a great program. It’s too bad it’s only available for Macs. I’ve always been on a PC.


  5. Sometimes even reading your work in PDF format enables you to see it through different eyes.

    Thanks for this great link. There’s a lot to learn there.


  6. You’re welcome, Linda. Hope it’s helpful. Let us know what you think.


  7. […] And of course, Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Revision Method, which I’ve written about in a couple posts (Revising Your Manuscript and Revising on Paper vs. Computer). […]


  8. […] I might even try Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Manuscript Revision Method. […]



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