Tech Debate

For those who might be interested, I have done a more detailed look into what I found to be the pros and cons of using a computer to edit versus the traditional paper and (multicoloured) pen. I think these are – for me anyway – the main points.


  • You can have multiple documents open, useful for a variety of reasons. If, for example, I wanted to check a detail such as what a character looked like, I could have another document that recorded all that information and it would be just a click away.
    • If you get too involved with making notes on character or plot – or constantly checking on them – you can loose the flow of the story, and miss other aspects that need checking. Which could be why advice tells you to read through a draft multiple times, once for continuity, once for flow, once for spelling and grammar, etc. (Out of interest does anyone actually do that?)
  • Changes can be made immediately and easily.
    • The downside of this being that you can play around with a sentence for ages, tweaking it one way and back again, then realise you want it like it was, only you’ve done too many changes to undo and the original words are gone. Similarly, if you delete or alter the bit you’re working on, you don’t know what the original was.
  • If you want to check a fact, the internet is right there.
    • If you’re easily distracted the internet (and whatever else you have on your computer) is right there.
  • Word has a built-in thesaurus, or if you’ve got the internet handy, you can use that.
    •  If you get on the internet, there’s those pesky temptations just waiting to distract you, and the Word thesaurus and dictionary does have its limitations, especially where modern/popular words or phrases come in.

Paper and Pen:

  • You have a hard copy of your manuscript – it’s real, you can hold it in your hands, and it will make feel guilty if you don’t get on and do something with it. Especially if you have it sat out somewhere you’ll see it.
    • Not so good is that you have to actually print the thing out, which means firstly having a working printer and enough paper to print the manuscript. Secondly, you’re using all that paper and ink. Thirdly, you then have to either go to the trouble and expense of having it bound, or you’re juggling loose pages of paper.
  • The size and spacing of the text itself, and the size of margins can be an issue: you don’t want to have hundreds of pages when you only need sixty-odd, but you do need readability. I find print harder to read if it’s too big and spaced out, but you also have to consider space for making your notes/corrections/changes.
    • If you print both sides of the paper that means you need to edit both sides – pens can bleed through so check that out.
  • Using several different colours of pen can make the process that much more fun. Or it did for me anyway!
    • Just make sure that if each colour marks something different, you remember which coloured pen means what, and that you’re using the right one in the right place! Pens, can also be lost, forgotten, or run out.
  • When I’m editing I change my mind. Quite a bit sometimes. It’s great to have the original words there, where even if I cross them out I can still read them. I can also see which possible alterations I’ve already tried that maybe didn’t quite work out.
    • You need to be able to read what you’ve written and understand any weird markings you made. After you’ve made them. If you’re not careful pages can become filled with crossings out, arrows, stars, random letters, and alterations that read down one side of the page, across the bottom, up the top and down bits of the other side. On the upside, this is an edited draft, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like!
  • I found it harder to be distracted, and I was more focused on reading the words rather than skimming them. I’d edited one piece a couple of times already, printed it out and found a few ‘should have been obvious’ mistakes pretty quickly.

So there you have it, my trials with technologies (ongoing of course!) While the computer may be quicker, easier, more convenient. . . I have to say I like the feeling of having a tangible manuscript to be sitting down with. Plus, at the end of it you can look back and see at a glance just how much, where and what you have changed, and you have that as a permanent testament to how hard you’ve worked. Or an agonizing reminder of just how many drafts you’ve been through, but hey! As to other questions of durability, work on the computer has to be saved, but even if you do that there’s no guarantee it’ll be safe: a fire trashes technology nearly as easily as it burns paper, and at least a burglar isn’t like to steal a stack of scribbled on paper, but a laptop or other electronic device. . . Not that I’m expecting these things to happen, just pointing out that to claim one method as ‘safer’ than the other is, to me, unrealistic.

Back to the point! Both methods of editing have their ups and downs. Maybe which you use depends partly on the volume of text you’re editing, what the weather’s like, where you intend to edit and what hardware/software you’re using. If you want to snatch ten minutes of editing time while on the train going to work, carrying an inch-and-a-half manuscript probably isn’t practical. A laptop or pad of some sort however. . . Then again, you could take in just a few pages, you don’t have to carry around the whole thing all the time. Also, as I think I mentioned previously, I’ve edited on the computer before with no problem, but recently I just haven’t been able to concentrate properly when I try. Hence, the paper trials and. . . this!

As a point of potential interest, I was using an ordinary sort of laptop running some version of Word for my editing on the computer. Printed version was on white paper, black text, 12pt Times New Roman with normal spacing, and I used three colours of pen. In theory these were red for spelling and tweaking, green for grammar and punctuation, blue for additions. As I say, in theory. It didn’t always work out exactly like that! The text was a good size for reading, a little tight when I had any amount of editing to do because I could only just write above the text.

Definitely still learning here!

3 thoughts on “Tech Debate

  1. The only time I’ve ever edited a story on physical paper is the semi-rare occasion that I wrote the actual story on paper in the first place (though I always type it up on a computer later). There definitely is something extra satisfying about both editing and writing that way, but for me, the biggest issue with it is that I can type significantly faster that I can write – a benefit/drawback of using computers for your work.

    The only thing I would contest about your comparison though is safety of the work. On computer, you can copy it to many computers or devices in second, and there are many other ways to keep things like that safe. Granted, you can also copy hand written stories, but do any of us really have time for that? :p


    1. Too true! When you’re talking about multiple copies in multiple places, digital is by far the easier – and probably more reliable – option. Which reminds me, I should probably back up my work round about now. . . 🙂


  2. Pingback: Writing Problems and Their Remedies – CinderBears Wood

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