Are you wondering if you’d benefit by printing your current novel in progress and editing it by hand? The truth is that there are a lot of benefits to looking at your work in a different format, especially if you do all your writing on a computer.

What You’ll Need

  1. A red pen or any color pen that isn’t black or the color of your printer ink. You want your edits to stand out on the page. I prefer the Pilot Precise V5.

  2. Printer paper. I prefer the cheapest stuff I can find that doesn’t have 100 reviews of ‘it jams’ or ‘feels nasty’. I typically use Hammermill and that’s because as of the writing of this article, I can get 8, 500-page reams for $29, which is $3.63 a pack.

  3. A cheap laser printer. I’m currently using a Brother HL-L2300D Monochrome Laser Printer because it prints 27 pages per minute, and the tray holds up to 250 sheets. The toner cartridges also print 1800+ sheets, which means you aren’t going to switching out your ink mid-novel-print, like with an inkjet. I don’t know about you, but when I owned an inkjet, I got real tired of constantly feeding it more paper and spending $30+ on ink for every single draft.

 

Formatting Before Printing

You may be tempted to leave your draft in 8 by 11 with double-spaced lines and 1” margins. However, I caution against it. This will fill up the page with the text of your book and leave you little to no room for edits. If you’re like me, this results in edits everywhere and on the back of the page and in some instances, sticky notes and extra lined pages from a notebook. To reduce the likelihood of creating a disaster that you can’t read when you’re ready to input your changes in the computer, I recommend going ahead and formatting your book as if you were ready to publish it. This means:

  • 6” by 9” pages

  • Mirrored margins

  • .5” margins with .65 on the outer margin (Why not the inner? My experience is that Amazon reverses the inner/outer margins, especially on really really really long books. I had this problem with Anything for an A, which is more than 700 pages. No matter how far in I adjusted that inner margin, Amazon would not recognize it as changed. It only worked after I reversed the numbers for the inner and outer margins.)

  • Size 12 font is okay, but I tend to go ahead and reduce it to book print, which is either 10 or 11.

  • Proportional, 130% between lines

  • Your personal preference for between paragraphs. I tend to do .4 end and .4 beginning.

 

With these settings, you won’t be printing out too many more pages, and you will be giving yourself ample room to input your edits (if you decrease that font size).

When Should You Consider Editing by Hand?

Somewhere between the third and fourth drafts if you are using my Five Draft Method, or when you are between halfway to three-fourths of the way finished with your novel. 

Benefits of Editing by Hand

Everyone always says, you need a fresh set of eyes to edit your work or a different set of eyes. The latter means hire an editor or get beta readers. If you don’t have time to wait or money to spend, you can give yourself a new set of eyes by moving your work to a different format. In my case, that means printing it. However, if you wrote your entire book by hand, your ‘new set of eyes’ would happen as you typed it into your computer. For this article though, we’re just talking about the benefits of editing by hand with pen and paper.

1. You will find words and phrases you skipped.

When you are typing on a computer, it’s easy to skip phrases and words, like ‘She walked car’. If you’re just skimming your work on your computer, you may miss that missing ‘to’. I just caught a missing phrase the other day while I was editing AVIA IV.

What I Wrote: 

If you want to find a rag, I’ll clean this table,” Breck said.

Avia retrieved a bottle of cleaning solution and a rag to wipe off the table.

What it Should Be:

If you want to find a rag, I’ll clean this table,” Breck said.

Avia retrieved a bottle of cleaning solution and a rag from just inside the warehouse door to wipe off the table.

Why does it matter? The rag and cleaning solution didn’t appear out of thin air in the second version.

 

2. You’ll find passages that you need to clarify.

You could also consider this a type of skip, but as you are reading your work on the printed page, you’ll notice sections that are missing pieces or need to be clarified. For Example:

What I Wrote:

They are empty, Brian,” Joe said. “I filled her tanks. Drained the water, and filled them again until it stopped giving me gas. It filled her main tanks and half-filled her secondary tanks.”

Brian picked up his cell phone and called their tank repair guy. “Hey, it’s Brian.” He listened. “Can you get over to the ranch and see what’s going on with my avgas tanks? The bottom was full of water.” He paused while the repair guy spoke. “No emergency. I’m out of town, but my pilot just called. Said she filled enough to get off the ground, but the tanks are empty and what was there was mostly water.” Brian rolled his eyes. “Tuesday is fine… Yes. Call me at this number.” He ended the call. “I hate that guy, but he’ll be out Tuesday.”

What It Should Be:

They are empty, Brian,” Joe said. “I filled her tanks. Drained the water, and filled them again until it stopped giving me gas. It filled her main tanks and half-filled her secondary tanks.”

I’ll take care of that right now.” Brian picked up his cell phone and called their tank repair guy. “Hey, it’s Brian.” He listened. “Can you get over to the ranch and see what’s going on with my avgas tanks? The bottom was full of water.” He paused while the repair guy spoke. “No emergency. I’m out of town, but my pilot just called. Said she filled enough to get off the ground, but the tanks are empty and what was there was mostly water.” Brian rolled his eyes. “Tuesday is fine… Yes. Call me at this number.” He ended the call. “I hate that guy, but he’ll be out Tuesday.”

Why does it matter? The first version was too abrupt. There was no lead-in to Brian calling the gar tank repair guy.

 

3. You will find text that doesn’t make sense.

This typically falls under a drafting/editing error that you introduced while changing previous text. What happens here is that you changed the scene but didn’t delete enough of the old scene and now you have text that doesn’t make sense with the current text. Or maybe you were trying to save a patch of text that you really liked from the old scene, and it just doesn’t fit.

What I Wrote:

"Thank you," Brian said. He looked at Locke. "And what the hell are you doing here? You’re a little far away from home."

"Visiting Josephine," Locke said. "By now, you've probably heard I've been fired."

"I wouldn't say I've heard that," Brian said. "I heard you're off our case though."

"Fired, pending the conclusion of an investigation," Locke said as he looked at them both.

Tough break,” Brian said. “But don’t look at me. I don’t have time to make your life a living hell. As you just saw, I have my hands full.” He motioned to Avia before guiding her toward the Mercedes.

Brian put the packages in the trunk before opening Avia’s door. Once she was inside, he closed her door, walked around the car and stepped in on the driver's side. He started the engine and backed out of the parking space.

Avia nudged him with her elbow. “Locke suspects something.”

My cover story is ironclad,” Brian said. “And we pay out lawyer a fuckton to keep us out of jail.”

Didn’t work so well for Benton, and I still don’t like that he’s here,” Avia said.

"I know this is your escape city, but he’s not staying at your house. He’s probably staying with Josephine," Brian said. “And it did work for Benton. He got three years instead of twenty to life.”

"I still think he's planning something," Avia said.

What it Should Be:

"Thank you," Brian said. He looked at Locke. "And what the hell are you doing here? You’re a little far away from home."

"Visiting Josephine," Locke said. "By now, you've probably heard I've been fired."

"I heard you're off our case,” Brian said. “I didn’t ask why.”

"Fired, pending the conclusion of an investigation," Locke said as he looked at them both.

Don’t look at me. I don’t have time to make your life a living hell. As you just saw, I have my hands full.” Brian motioned to Avia before guiding her toward the Mercedes.

Brian put the packages in the trunk before opening Avia’s door. Once she was inside, he closed her door, walked around the car and stepped in on the driver's side. He started the engine and backed out of the parking space.

Avia nudged him with her elbow.

"I know this is your escape city, but he’s not staying at your house. He’s probably staying with Josephine," Brian said.

"I think he's planning something," Avia said.

Why does it matter? The second scene is tighter. In previous versions, there were some references to Benton’s previous prison sentence that were much more in-depth that what was in the current first version. With the two edits I’d performed previously, those sections no longer made sense. It’s also redundant at this point because his prison sentence for murder and his current charges are brought up numerous times in AVIA IV. It doesn’t need to be here.

3. You will find redundancies.

How many times did you mention that thing? You know the thing I’m talking about. Every book has that one thing that the characters keep mentioning over and over and over again or that the characters keep doing. In AVIA IV, I’ve got two of them. The first one is Benton’s previous prison sentence. The second one is eating. I’m serious. My characters are eating all the time in AVIA IV. I need to delete like half the meal scenes and rework the conversations into something else. Anytime you are reading your book and you think – Didn’t I just read this? You probably did and one of those mentions needs to go away.

4. You end up doing two drafts at one time.

When you edit by hand, you end up doing two drafts at once. You’ll do the first one as you correct the text on the paper page. You’ll perform the second one as you type your changes into your computer. This can make the drafting and editing process faster.

Is Editing by Hand the Right Way to Go for Your Novel?

If you aren’t sure, I recommend printing one chapter and editing it by hand. There’s no reason to print off 400 pages if you’re not going to read them. It’s a massive waste of paper and printer ink. If you manage to get through the first chapter, go ahead and print the second. I will say that editing by hand doesn’t work for all books or all authors, so give it a test and see if it works for you.

 

Read More on Drafting Your Novel

 

  1. The Minimalist’s Way to Start a First Draft ...
  2.  Best Approaches to Start a Second Draft ...
  3. Writing the Third Draft of a Fiction Novel ...
  4. How to Write the Fourth Draft of a Fiction Novel ...
  5. How to Write the Fifth and Final Draft of a Novel ...
  6. How Many Drafts Should You Put on a Fiction Novel? ...
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