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Scott Lax Blog

Writing by Computer and Editing by Hand

It's a peaceful Saturday morning. I’m sitting at the dining room table. There's a low-slung, pre-solstice sun gently lighting the snow on the back porch. We're waiting for our baby to arrive; but that could still be a few days or perhaps more away. I'm on edge, but in a good way. Earlier, I read part of a short story in The New Yorker. It’s a longer story, and I’m enjoying it enough to go back to it. But concentrating for long on reading, with a baby in the near future, makes this a good time for me to edit.

I've been working on a book proposal for weeks now. It's just passed forty pages. I ran it off on the printer last evening before I came home from the office, across town, where I write.

Barely a page in and I've made numerous additions, corrections and edited one thing out. I'm certain I wouldn't have made these same changes if I simply edited on the computer.

I take notes by hand, in a notebook, but nearly all of what I write for publication I write initially on a computer. It flows easier, and it helps my fingers move as fast as my mind, sometimes faster. Often I write something before I think it, or so it seems.

Editing is a different matter. Seeing a page in the context of the physical world enables me to grasp its shape, form and essence much better. I don't know why that is; I'll leave that to a study that might be (or has been) performed at a university somewhere. I only know it's true for me. If you are a young or a new writer, maybe it would help you.

Think about avoiding the alternative: sloppy writing. I've noticed a lot of mistakes made in blogs, tweets and even articles on the Internet, including in Web sites of traditional newspapers. It's as if an Internet piece is somehow granted special dispensation from the elements of style. Even some highly accomplished authors that tweet and blog make mistakes that would be admonished in English class.

This isn't a good sign, because it means it's slowly becoming acceptable to make errors of punctuation, usage, grammar and spelling. It corrodes the written language, but it also stops you from writing your best. And the best you can write is usually not the best unless you edit what you write.

For this blog post, I won't print it out. But I will edit it. I've made mistakes before in blogs, and then tried to correct them later. No one's perfect, especially me.

But if you are writing a serious work – short story, a novel, a nonfiction memoir, a term paper, whatever it might be – you might want to edit it by hand. If you can, I strongly suggest you do that, at least once, then fix your work; and only then submit it.

Now, back to my own edit.  Read More 

Editing in Life and Literature

One of the things that strikes me about Ted Kennedy's life and how he approached it, was that he believed that even with failings and flaws and tragedy, we can still attempt and sometimes do good works.

In view of writing, this holds true. I'm working on a book of short stories right now. One that I'm working on now, a 25-pager, calls me to edit it every day. I've made, I don't know, dozens, maybe a hundred plus changes. And I know that it will never be perfect, maybe never even be good, but I'll edit it until I think it's the best it can be. Then I'll let it go.

Even then, I'll know it could have been better. The publisher of THE YEAR THAT TREMBLED, Paul S. Eriksson, may he rest in peace, told me as my first novel was going to press, and I was begging for more changes, "There comes a time you have to let it go!"

Except Paul didn't exactly "say" it. He sort of yelled it. He was a grand and good man, with a passion for books, and he taught me a lot. So: my advice is to work and work on a project, and then let it go.

A work of literature is like being human: It will never be perfect.  Read More