It’s less than two decades since computer swept typewriters away. Gone, like an old shoe, but not forgotten. The imagery of writing – of creative fiction, especially – still revolves around the old dieselpunk-era Smith Corona Portable or the Imperial upright.
It’s easy to forget the lessons of typing too. Typing made revisions hard. I remember bashing out “first draft” stuff on double-spaced newsprint style paper. Then would come pen-and-ink changes; then maybe a second draft. Maybe a third. Finally it would be time to copy-type the final on clean, white manila paper.
These days it’s too easy to just change stuff.
I can’t complain. If done right, it makes it possible to achieve tremendous quality quickly. But it also makes it possible to write rubbish very quickly.
That’s because the permanence of the typed word on paper meant writers had to think first, type second. It meant every sentence had to be considered. It meant structure had to be planned. And the act of re-typing the pen-corrected manuscript gave a further opportunity to review the words in their minds – slowly and carefully.
All these things remain true of good writing today. The question is how they’re achieved – whether by careful consideration, then writing – which works just fine on a word processor – or by blurt-and-amend, which also works fine, but may take longer, paradoxically, than the other way.
The thing is, it’s too easy to blat words into a word processor without considering the structures of sentences, paragraphs and – most important – of the overall work. I think the ease of typing and revising lends itself to unstructuring the writing, if we’re not careful.
1. Stop, pause, plan – then write. Just like in the old typing days.
2. Do what typewriter-age writers did: print the draft out and go through it in pen and ink.
3. When keying those changes back into your word processor – think about how they can be improved.
4. Rinse and repeat. Seriously. You get the luxury of a clean version at the touch of a button. Quality counts, and two pen-and-ink reads are better than one.
5. When you get your work proof-edited, make sure the proof-editor does the same.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
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