The Print-Out

This week, I’m working on what is probably one of the more banal jobs in my editing process – the print-out.

Everyone has their own way of editing, and I’ve tried more methods than I can actually remember. But one that has stuck with me since I started writing with a No. 2 pencil in my hand has been reading and marking up a physical copy of what I’ve written.

In the early days, I marked up a printed copy of my story because it was literally the only way I could edit. I’m a child of the 80’s; I wrote my first stories in wide-rule spiral-bound notebooks, using pencils because pens were too messy. Once I learned to type, I used my parents’ old typewriter, which smudged the “e” and was noisier than any aviary in any zoo. At some point (and after what must have been ceaseless begging), I got a word processor – that cross between a typewriter and a computer, which had a screen about 14 characters long, but could save my files on 3.5″ floppy discs, and I had to load every piece of paper individually when it was time to print my work in one mass effort.

Obviously, there were a lot of mistakes and typos, when only 14 characters at a time were visible. I got pretty used to printing out my story, marking up the changes and new scenes and dialog and anything else… and then starting the slow process of skimming through the text, 14 characters at a time, to make changes.

I don’t think I wrote anything on a computer until college. My parents owned a computer when I was in high school, but it was the family’s computer, sitting in the living room for all of us to share. I liked writing in the privacy of my own room better.

Editing on a computer screen was a vast improvement over a 14-character viewscreen. Suddenly, I didn’t have to print out a page to see everything – and I stopped printing out stories to review them. I could edit just fine on the computer, and so that’s what I did. After all, I was still writing with a pencil a lot of the time, especially when I was commuting to work, and editing the hand-written words as I typed them into the computer at the end of the day. I still edited on the page… just much earlier in the process.

Until one day, about four or five years ago, when the story I was working on had so many problems that I couldn’t see all of the issues on the computer screen anymore. I was a stay-at-home mom by then; I didn’t write with pencil on the Metro anymore. Heck, the only thing I physically wrote with anymore was a crayon as my son and I scribbled on blank paper, side-by-side.

I  missed writing. I missed the scratch of pencil on paper. And I realized I needed to have that print out, to, and then lay out the scenes on the table in front of me. I needed to be able to flip back and forth from scene to scene, mark a place and be able to go back to it with ease. I needed to make notes in the margins, use sticky tabs and colored pencils.

I needed to write out my edits on paper again. So that’s what I did – and it worked. The story that had been such a mess took only a few hours to fix, once I could see the problems on paper.

This week, that’s what I’m doing with one half of The Country Alpha. I’ve got it printed out, all 197 pages of it, and once the baby is down for his nap, I’ll sit down at the kitchen table and get to work. Pick up my pencil, and start marking, editing, deleting, adding… and turning what is currently a mess of a timeline into something that flows smooth and sure.

It’s a little bit daunting… but it works. It’s not a step I take lightly – after all, 197 pages is A LOT of pages to print – but I’ve found that sometimes it’s the only way I can fix a problem too big for even my 17″ screen.

I love writing on my computer… but there will always be something special about writing with a pencil in my hand.


While I’m here – I’ve got an exciting announcement for this weekend coming on Thursday – keep your eyes peeled!

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