When it comes to editing… Screen, paper, audio?

editingWhich approach works best for you?

Though I might scribble ideas on paper, I always write first drafts on a computer or an iPad. I edit them there too, so I tell myself. Experience has shown me though that printing out and reading the paper copy always throws up typos missed on the screen. Even the reading experience of the on paper version differs for some reason.

Maybe it’s that I print out on to yellow paper, and the colour change means I read more slowly or with fresher eyes. Maybe it’s because the text lies within the confines of, and is limited to, one page at a time rather than the continuous on-screen scroll. Perhaps it’s that I move away from the computer to read the pages and am less hypnotised by that slightly shiny, shimmery, Tahoma 16pt justified. No doubt being less distracted by other things going on (or available) on my Mac is a factor.

Take today. I’ve done that thing of leaving the third version of a WIP, a short story, in the digital drawer for a few days. On revisiting it, it seemed ready for a proof read, hence the print out. I took the paper copy and my red editing pen to a cafe. Not only did I find typos, I found words that were not the best options available for what I was endeavouring to show, slips in the narrative voice, sentences that would read with more clarity and impact were they turned round, paragraphs I’d broken in the wrong place for the sense of the text, and an ending that needed improving by linking back to references to the Bible made earlier in the story. I also read the piece aloud (sotto voce, of course) and found even more similar issues. On other occasions I’ve recorded myself reading and stumbling over shoddy phrasing. Listening back, I could hear where flow was disrupted unintentionally or I sounded to be droning on and on and on. It’s a process I’d recommend.

People tell me my style is quite poetic, sometimes from the language I use, but often from the rhythm initiated by my syntactical choices. This can become a problem. If I’m sure the piece is meant to be prose not poetry in disguise, I need to vary the sentences’ length and rhythm. Rhythm in prose does of course have a place, but it needs to be used for good reason and effect rather than from habituation. Too much of it can lose the carry, twists and moments of impact of the story.

Another couple of hours’ work later, it’s time for another print out (and a cup of tea).