Give Me Paper or Give Me Death

This is not the debate you think it will be. I love both ebooks and print and this is not about which one is better. That fight has been played out more times than there are new titles in a year (for the curious, that’s some huge number I don’t want to look up).

This is about editing, and style. It’s about old fashioned copyediting vs. the digital, track changes kind. They are basically the same thing; I’m looking for same errors, I’m changing the same sentences.

But one turns the page into rivers of blood and bubbles (I’m looking at you, Word), and the other involves beautiful, albeit antiquated, markings that are a language unto themselves. A subtext that any trained eye can read. . . Well, that depends on the legibility of the craftsperson (yes, editing on paper is a lot like artisanal sourdough).

An insistence on editing on paper is pretentious. But I can live with that. The reason I love editing on paper is much simpler. In a digital document, there is just a stream of words and pages, without a significant indicator of progress made. Sure, things turn red and comments appear thick and fast, but you don’t have the stacks. The stacks are the true measure of whether you’re on pace for a deadline. If the stack to your left (or right, I’m not a cop) isn’t decreasing and the stack to your right (or vice-versa, your left, you uncultured swine) isn’t increasing, than you know you’re not getting much done. If you are powering through it, however, the shifting stacks can be a source of motivation and pride. You just don’t get the same sense of achievement when you check a page indicator at the bottom of your Word doc.

Then there’s the way you can sort paper stacks into chapters and assign them to days. You say, I’ll have this stack of chapters done by Tomorrow, and that stack by Tuesday, etcAnd then you get to keep them in separate piles and feel extraordinarily organised and industrious. Now, you could do this with a Word doc, but it’s just annoying rather than inspiring and then you have recompile them into a single document later, which is far more laborious than stacking paper.

A mark against on paper editing is that, due to the nature of the industry, any changes you make are going to have be made to the digital file eventually. Almost certainly by YOU. This means editing on paper increases your workload. But conversely, this also means that by the time all the edits have been transferred digitally, you will have edited the manuscript twice. Turning weaknesses into strengths is part of my repertoire of excellent (party) tricks.

I could consider the environmental impacts of printing each manuscript to edit it on paper when I could just edit it digitally, but in this industry that argument is pretty laughable. Do I still feel terrible about the trees? Yes, but not terrible enough to seek a different career.

In summary, you can take my pens but you’ll never take my freedom! preference for editing on paper.

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