I remember a few years ago being amused and amazed by the fact that I never had to print and mail a manuscript in order to submit a book to my publisher. For the first ten years or so of my writing career, a $30 Fed Ex bill was a rite of passage that marked the giant milestone of having finished a book. It seemed sort of anticlimactic to just attach the manuscript to an email and hit send.
This year marked yet another excursion into the frightening world of ones and zeroes: The entire editing process was handled by email. My editor’s comments came in “Review” mode in MS Word, accompanied by an editorial letter. In that case, I printed out the marked up manuscript, acknowledging my Luddite nature, and I confess to being frustrated by the tiny, tiny typeface. I soldiered on. I made my initial changes to the edited manuscript in pencil, and then I transferred them to the version I got from my editor. Weeks passed.
A few weeks later, I got the copy edited manuscript, and-lo and behold–gone were the scribblings in red pencil and the marginal notes. It was another “Review Mode” manuscript. I’m happy to report that the manuscript was refreshingly clean, but I found the instructions to be a bit confusing. My orders were to not accept or reject the copy editor’s marks, but to comment “stet” where I thought they were wrong, and to rewrite the areas where I agreed.
Damage Control has been put to bed now. My last opportunity to reengineer anything is in the rearview mirror. The book is heading toward a June release, and here’s nothing anyone can do about it. I hope y’all like it when you read it.
Here’s my concern: I love seeing the manuscripts of the authors I admire. Reading the hand-edited typescripts of Hemingway or the handwritten manuscripts of Dickens is a master class in choices made by the writer. Such documents have gone the way of the do-do bird now. The brilliant authors of today (and believe me when I say that I do not put myself among their number) will have no record of the sentences that nearly worked but were changed to make them better.
The brilliant thriller writer, Stephen Hunter, told me once over dinner that back when he was first getting published in the late seventies, the typewritten manuscript was a form of natural selection. Having never suffered a rejection himself, he believed that the willingness to re-type a 400-page manuscript four or five times separated the truly committed from the pretenders. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Plus, there’s a great paper trail.
I don’t even keep previous drafts anymore. As I make changes, I simply overwrite the master file.
When people talk about the romance of writing, I harken back to the days I never knew, when typesetters had to insert handwritten additions that were noted by carrots and chicken scratchings. In my mind’s eye, that’s a far more organic process than merely typing in changes as you go.
So, Killzoners, what do you think? Do you keep your original versions of stuff you write? Do you secretly harbor dreams of future generations uncovering the way your mind works when you write? Has the world of ones and zeroes made writing less . . . romantic?