I am somewhat techno-phobic. I was among the last of my acquaintances to get a cell phone, and even in 2011, I use my phone almost exclusively to make and receive calls. (I couldn’t browse the Interweb on my phone even if I wanted to.) I still use the iPod that I bought second-hand in 2005. My laptop is a dinosaur. I am adamantly opposed to Kindles, too, although the reasons seems petty: I like the way books smell and feel, and I like the way the pages sound as I flip them. Plus, my I can’t imagine living in a home that’s not cluttered by books; it would feel foreign and sterile, like a hotel room.
When it comes to writing, I’m not so old-school as to hand write my drafts in yellow legal pads like some of the writers I know, but I’m still fairly old fashioned. I do type my drafts in Microsoft Word, but I’ve disabled the spelling and grammar checkers because the squiggly lines under my proper nouns and intentional fragments are distracting. I also print my drafts and use a red pen when I revise, edit, and proofread. I just don’t get the full effect of my words when they’re on a screen. It’s too easy to gloss over an essay, to let my mind wander, to interrupt the flow of the piece by taking an e-mail break.I take it a step further, though. Most writers use the “copy and paste” feature to experiment when they know a piece isn’t working because of organizational issues. I can’t keep track of everything when I do that, though, and I inevitably end up with entire sections that disappear into thin air and others that show up on pages 6, 9, and 10. I need to see the whole essay all at once. I need to physically engage with my paragraphs and move them around to get a sense of how the piece flows. It’s not environmentally friendly, but I print copies, cut them apart, tape them together, and draw all over them with my red pen.The photo accompanying this post documents some of this afternoon’s revision work. My current project is to revise an essay I wrote back in 2004. It’s called “What We Do Here,” and it’s about a summer job I had working at a local history museum. I haven’t touched it in more than four years. The essay has been rejected by more than thirty journals. Several editors had included notes about how the piece is “so close,” but none offered any suggestions for how to improve it or pinpointed the problem. I stared at it and stared at it, but I never figured out how to make it any better. I relegated “What We Do Here” to the metaphorical drawer where all of my unpublished essays congregate, just waiting to be pulled back out when I either have a revelation or (more commonly) don’t have a new piece to work on but feel lazy because I’m not writing.Today, after reading through my printed copy with a fresh eye and a red pen, and then cutting it up and taping it back together, I think I know what to do. Tomorrow’s task will be to go back to the Word Processor, rearrange the sections, take some things out, put a few things in, change some wording. If I’d jumped straight to the word processor, I would have killed the piece and ended up frustrated all over again. With the aid of my handy-dandy Safety Scissors and some Scotch tape, though, I’m in business.
- The Importance of First Lines
- On Writing Nonfiction