Is it worth it to print out your entire novel for editing?

My friends, I used to be a doubter about printing out the novel. But now, I am a firm believer. Although it took me a while to get there.

The first time I printed out my entire manuscript, it was useless. One pack of paper and toner cartridge later, I realised the novel needed some major structural changes. These changes included (but weren’t limited to) writing new scenes, extending entire chapters into more chapters, developing characters, inventing new characters, and deleting huge sections of plot.

And I didn’t need to print out anything to determine these changes were necessary. Reading the manuscript on my screen was sufficient to conclude that I needed to blow that Popsicle stand. The changes were so big, they were obvious. It wasn’t an entire rewrite, but it was close.

So, to save paper, ink, and time, I have the following suggestion: If you know what changes to make in your manuscript, don’t print the thing. If you know what prevents your novel from reading like a novel, don’t print the thing. If you have structural edits to make and not line by line edits, don’t print the thing.

Instead, wait.

Wait until you’ve reached the point writing your novel where you don’t know what to do to make it better. When you’ve done the best you possibly can.

Okay, so now your novel is at the point where it’s chilling in some kind of document on your computer completely edited and you have no clue what to do with it next.

And now we print?

No. Put that sucker away. Don’t look at it. Don’t work on it. Do something else. Send to some beta-readers for a fresh perspective. Wait some more. Wait a long, long time, until you can no longer recite the entire manuscript from beginning to end and recall the exact contents of every chapter.

Once you’ve acquired some distance, you can return to your manuscript. But don’t read it on the screen like you have been for these past million drafts. Now print.

I did this last week and it’s been so worth it this time round.

I don’t know if it’s the time away from the manuscript, or looking at it in a different format (on paper instead of on the screen), or what, but mistakes just are popping off the page for me. I believed this wouldn’t happen because I grew up with computers and I have no problem reading stuff on the screen. I didn’t think that the printing copy would take me to a place of editing enlightenment.

But it has.

Since printing my manuscript, I’ve found stuff that sounds awkward, small nit-picky errors, and other hard-to-classify improvements (like wouldn’t it be more logical for the protagonist to think x instead of y in this situation). And even though I’ve read and played with many sentences a million times, the new format is allowing me to pick up how to strengthen sentences I believed were as strong as they could be.

Now my only question is after this draft, will I have to print out the novel again?

My answer: Probably.

As all writers know, it’s never over.

 

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” by Yaba Badoe

I haven’t read a magical realism book since Isabelle Allende’s “House of Spirits” in high school, which was a fan favourite with our grade eleven class due to the copious amounts of sex in it. Well, sorry to disappoint, but “A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is a magical realism novel without copious amounts of sex. But you should totally read it anyway, because it deals with some heavy themes and the writing is gorgeous. (How’s this for an intro? Sorry, I did really like this book.)

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” starts with a shipwreck of migrants and refugees from Ghana. The sole survivor is Sante, a baby, who is found floating ashore in a treasure chest of her people. Fourteen years later, the story then follows Sante’s life as a member of a circus containing people of all races and nationalities. Despite being orphaned, she’s managed to find her family. However, the dead from the shipwreck are calling on Sante to avenge her people.

This novel deals with a lot of tough issues, such as sex trafficking and murder of refugees in a pretty matter of fact way. And despite the matter of factness, there is a lyrical quality to the writing with symbolism, dreams, and strange magic from the spirit world. There are universal themes of identity and family and belonging running through the entire plot line. In addition, the relationships between Sante and her adopted siblings Cobra and Cat are fleshed out and feel real. Essentially, “Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is chock full of good stuff and has a unique voice.

Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that people sank a ton of ships containing many, many people and their families just to collect some insurance. It is both horrific and tragic. Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wondering how Badoe managed to write so beautifully about something so terrible. Amazing and thought-provoking.

 

“The Last Namsara” by Kristen Ciccarelli

Asha is convinced she is morally corrupted. Not from killing dragons, but from telling forbidden stories. Ever since her childhood, she’s killed the creatures to protect her father’s kingdom, trying to redeem herself for a mistake she made when she was young that harmed the city. But now dragons are hard to find, and Asha is forced to tell the old stories to lure them out. Old stories that result in sickness and death and destruction of those who tell them.

Despite her service to the kingdom, her people still hate her. And with her upcoming wedding to her father’s cruel commandant, Asha hopes for an escape. Her father offers a trade: the head of the king of dragons for her freedom from the marriage.

However, when Asha starts the hunt, a slave boy challenges everything that she believed to be true about herself, about her relationship with dragons, and about her kingdom.

This novel describes a rigid society with unusual customs and tensions between traditional values and the new regime. It also contains many beautiful short folktales interspersed throughout the chapters. These stories contribute to building Asha’s world and help to understand the present of the novel in context with its past.

It has a beautiful message about how in order to find your true self, you have to look beyond society, beyond your family, and beyond whatever toxic truths you’ve been told and internalised about your character. In Asha’s world, there is prejudice and racism, and the younger generation must work to break these barriers down and fight against injustice. Asha is a strong heroine and the conflicts she deals with in her fantastical society apply to today’s world as well.

Scrivener: A Writing Software Review

I should preface this review by saying that I bought Scrivener with my own coin using the discount given to all winners of Campnanowrimo way back in 2015. Scrivener did not solicit this review and all opinions are my own.

I’ve been using Scrivener, a writing software, for nearly three years now. Originally, it was recommended to me by someone in my university writing club. Once I started using it, I never went back to Word.

Before using Scrivener, I wrote a first draft of a story using Word. However, once I switched to Scrivener, I never went back. Here are some reasons why:

1) Scrivener encourages you to divide each chapter into a folder and each scene into its own file. It is very easy to navigate from chapter to chapter and scene to scene, which is great for editing. Say goodbye to the massive scrolling option that Word would force you to do to get to a pesky little scene in the middle of your manuscript.

2) With Scrivener, you can easily swap the scenes into different orders (say you realise something is better suited at the beginning than in the middle) with a simple drag of the mouse.

3) There is a cute cork board option that lets you outline each scene and move it around.

4) Perhaps most importantly, there is a snapshot feature. This feature allows you to copy and save old versions of your scene indefinitely. And if you don’t like what you’ve currently written to revise the scene, you can roll back to the previous version. I must admit that I very rarely review my previous versions of a scene, because once I know something needs to be changed, it needs to be changed for good. However, my copious snapshots act like a security blanket. It’s nice to know that I’m not just deleting all my previous work and can come back to it. It makes it somewhat easier to edit relentlessly.

5) Formatting with Scrivener is pretty easy. You just hit compile and it compiles your document to a word or pdf (your choice), and then you can see your work in its glory. It will have a header, the page number, and the chapters labelled halfway down the page. Basically while you work on your book, you can read it like a book ought to be read. You don’t have to waste much time ensuring the formatting works and fiddling around with spacing or what have you. Scrivener will do it for you.

Of course, there are some cons to using Scrivener.

1) For the most part, Scrivener is fairly intuitive. However, sometimes it has glitches. Fortunately, the site itself and the general online community have plenty of tutorial guides and how-to fixes. Usually a quick google search will clear up “Why is my header always upside down” and “Why does italicised text compile as underlined text” and the like.

2) Scrivener compiles for word and pdf formats admirably. I just tried the ebook format and it seems like it should work, you just might need to play with the settings to make it look fantastic. Some even more obscure formats don’t seem to work that well. So if you really want your book to compile to LaTex, you might want to look into this. Or just write it in LaTex directly, which if you’re writing a more symbol based book (like math or physics or comp sci or something), you probably already are doing. If you are writing a standard novel, it should work fine.

3) Once I tried to write a university assignment in Scrivener. This worked well until I needed a bibliography. Scrivener doesn’t have a bibliography function. If you need a bibliography that is cited in the text, don’t use Scrivener. Instead, use Word.