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Revising Away From The Computer

Revising is hard. I love revising, possibly more than I love drafting, but I still think it's hard. There's a lot of advice on how to revise successfully, because there are so many ways to help yourself be better at it. For me, one of those many ways was just to get away from my computer.

I've long been a fan of printing out my manuscripts to revise them. There's something about seeing the words on paper with my notes scrawled all over and things crossed out and moved and whatever else I do to the poor document that just makes the progress feel real. I think this is the same reason Word's track changes feature appeals to me*.

Lots of people revise well on their computer. There are even programs like Scrivener designed to make the process easier. But I don't revise well that way. I don't draft well on the computer, either, for that matter, which is why I own about a million and two notebooks. My computer is very distracting. It has so many games on it. And, worse: the internet. Since you're reading this blog post right now, I don't think further explanation is necessary on all the ways that the internet is distracting.

But if I move away from the computer, my concentration skills increase exponentially. I can curl up on the couch or in my bed or in a chair with my printed out document and cackle maniacally as I cross out and rewrite entire paragraphs and scenes--because, feeling slightly guilty for my tree slaughter, I try to only do one revision on a printed out version, so I usually pick an early stage of revision when I'm making lots of changes--and not be distracted by shiny things like email or Facebook or news stories. Plus somehow, seeing the manuscript in a different medium makes typos and awkwardly written chunks jump out to me more. And when I got a Kindle, I discovered that I could revise away from my computer on a screen that doesn't hurt my eyes and I could do it without printing out all those pages and whispering, "I'm sorry!" to the tree outside my window. It's not really made for revising, but it has a notes feature, and between that and the use of the aforementioned million and two notebooks**, I can revise in that same distraction-free way as when I printed it out. And am less likely to accidentally drop the whole pile of pages and have to try and figure out what order they are supposed to be in.

So in this way, I've grown into a revision style that works for me. One that makes revising enjoyable and that helps me be more successful at it, even if someone else trying to decipher my notes to myself might feel like they were reading an alien language. What about the rest of you? Where do you revise, and how do you keep the distractions at bay?

*I have a love/hate relationship with track changes, because sometimes it's mean to me.
**I know, I know. The trees just can't escape me.
Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. I also revise best by printing out and doing the revisions by hand. I wish I could do it on the computer, but I'm too easily distracted. I do re-use paper from previous print-outs and print on the back, though.

  2. How do you revise with a Kindle? This sounds like a fabulous option.

  3. I only ever revise in my open document, but I'll often save different versions b/c I'm paranoid of losing changes. I save copies of what I'm working on in google docs so I can access it remotely too.

    Revising is so hard and time consuming; but I think it's the real work authors do. First drafts are easy (sort of) but the real mark of a good writer is what you do during revisions. I'm still working on that part!

  4. I often find that when I get bogged down in a revision, switching to paper snaps me out of it and gets me back on track.

  5. I'm also a fan of printing it out and scribbling all over it. It's just easier for me if I can flip through the pages and compare changes I've already made and such.

    For actual drafting though, I use the computer because I love to make use of Write or Die--$10 well spent for the desktop edition, I swear.

  6. I try to get away from the computer as much as possible and I always edit a paper copy first. I like to handwrite first drafts too :)

  7. Callie--the kindle has a feature that lets you write notes on documents, so I leave myself notes like "x this sentence" or if I'm adding something small, then make the note whatever I wanted to add. And if I get to a spot where I'm massively rewriting or adding a huge chunk, I leave myself a note that says "see notebook" and in my notebook I write "comment #xx" and then write whatever long thing I want to write there. And when I'm done, there's a "view notes and marks" option that shows me all the notes I made, and I go through and put them into my word document.
    It's not a perfect system, and took me a little trial and error to figure out the best way to make it work (for me), but it's really nice because it's a lot easier to carry around the kindle than a giant stack of papers (or an entire computer!)

    Arianna--you are braver than I am. Write or Die terrifies me! But is brilliant.

  8. I did something awesome the other day! I also print out to do my hardcore slash and edit revisions, just a scene or two at a time, but the last one, I cut and chopped, and wrote notes on the paper, and then opened a new file and typed it again from scratch.

    It was really freeing. I wasn't bound to my copy paste function anymore. Revising on the computer can just trap me into laziness because I don't want to delete. On paper, it's never totally gone.

  9. I am just like you. I much prefer to write and revise by hand. I also like reading manuscripts on the Kindle and using the comments feature. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  10. I revise on the computer first. Then I print out and revise on paper. Then the computer again. Then paper again...

    I just got an iPad and wondered if I should revise on that but haven't tried it out yet.


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Item Reviewed: Revising Away From The Computer Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kaitlin Ward