Monday, July 2, 2007

The big printout

Back in the old days, when people used to write novels on typewriters, they were constantly aware of exactly what they had created, in the form of a large stack of paper, presumably with red-pencil marks all over it.

For most of us nowadays (except a few luddites and old-timers), a manuscript spends most of its time as a bunch of bytes on a hard drive, and hopefully a regular CD or jump drive backup if the writer is smart. (If Ralph Ellison was a 21st century writer, he'd say he lost the sequel to Invisible Man to a hard drive crash instead of a burning house). Given that, it's easy to forget just how many pages you have.

Sure, your word processor tells you. Down at the bottom of the page you have your word count and page count, so you can see how much you're getting done. But a little number '500' at the bottom of your screen is quite different from 500 pages.

Kat Dancing has a great article about this in her incredibly useful on writing page. As she points out, "Revising from the computer screen is a mistake; I skim, and you do too whether you realize it or not. Clench your teeth and sacrifice a tree on the altar of art." The think is, when she says a tree, she's not being hyperbolic.

I have two manuscripts under my belt right now. The first (working title And What Rough Beast) is a big, baggy ugly monster of 165,000 words that I need to go after with a chainsaw. There is a good story in there, but a lot of unnecessary crap. When I printed it out, I did it double-spaced 12pt courier, just like I would send it to an agent or publisher. It was 800 pages. That's a lot. It's about two reams, but paper is thicker after you print it, so think about twice the thickness of the reams when you buy them in the store.

There is absolutely no way to keep 800 pages of something together. Jen started reading it, so the last 700 or so are still sitting there, and I haven't had the guts to approach them yet.

My second manuscript (working title Unscheduled Inertia, whadya think?) is a relatively trim little 95k, and I think it's due more the scalpel than the chainsaw treatment. But 95,000 words is still close to 500 pages double-spaced. So I did something that I think is smarter. I shrunk the text to 10pt, single-spaced it, and printed it double-sided.

How do you print double-sided in Word? Glad you asked. This is best done about 30 pages at a time. Print the first thirty pages, odd numbers only (look under "paper handling" in the print dialog box). Then fluff them out & let them cool, and put them in upside down. You might want to play with it to see what direction and side your printer prints on before you do this. Then print the same pages, but the even numbers, and reverse order. You'll waste some pages before you get this right, but you'll save more down the road.

So this brought it down to 160 pages, or 80 sheets, double-sided. I know, people say your text should be double-spaced so you have "space to work." But most of that space gets wasted, and this way it all fits in a single three-ring binder I can carry around with me, so I actually can work on it wherever I am. I put in some extra paper in clase I need to add something else.

I think it's working. The first few pages have red all over them. As Kat suggested, I'm not looking at the computer file until I get through the printout. Hopefully, finishing off this one will give me the courage to go after the 165k monster behind it.

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