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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