Technology Scares Me

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?
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20 thoughts on “Technology Scares Me

  1. Ha. I used to keep my marked up manuscripts for future historians and biographers. No doubt there will be many vying for this bit of literary history. But in the off chance there are none, I’ve cleaned out several files’ worth.

    I do a lot of reviewing on my Kindle now. As long as I keep it away from Kathryn’s local park, I think that’ll do. It certainly helps with storage.

  2. John, I remember sending my manuscript out by fed ex and it felt very cool – and the revisions in red pencil felt quaint (and I wasn’t allowed to actually make the changes electronically just in pencil on the edited hard copy!). I have to confess hitting send on email doesn’t quite cut it (although you can do it at the last moment!). I do keep electronic copies of previous versions, however, just in case I need to go back and undo something I changed. I have so many files though it’s almost as bad as having a cupboard full of print outs!

  3. Time marches on, John. I used to keep the marked-up hard copies, but they’re all long gone to the landfill now. Because I work with a collaborator, I have to be able to quickly see what my co-writer has changed on a particular chapter when she sends it back to me (and vise versa). So we never save over the previous version–instead we save each chapter with the next letter of the alphabet. If I’ve first-drafted a chapter, I save it as version A. Lynn reads it, changes anything she wants, and saves as version B. Once I get it, I use MS Word’s “compare documents” to instantly see what she changed–her revisions appear in a different color. We continue through this process until we are satisfied with the chapter, and then move on. So I have a copy of each chapter that goes all the way back to the original draft.

    One last tip: we use Dropbox to send the chapters back and forth. It’s one of the greatest inventions of the last 1000 years.

  4. Hi, John!

    I used to keep the marked up manuscripts for everything. But I cleaned them out a few years back because, really, the only thing that’s important is the finished story.

    Electronically, I do save a version of the story at each stage, so First Draft, Second Draft, etc. I’ve sometimes found that I need to go back and recover something from it, so backups have been important. I still find it’s better to print an entire copy and use that for revision.

  5. Currently, I keep CD and DVDs that contain my projects at various stages. It isn’t that I see great value in them other than I want to be able to recover if a harddrive fails. I’m moving more toward the idea of using configuration management software with my book writing efforts, but I haven’t found a convenient way to implement it yet. In time, I figure we’ll all be using technology that stores every change we ever made to our manuscripts.

  6. I keep every Word document I write.Not that anyone is ever going to be interested, but one story’s trash — a phrase here, a name there — might be another’s treasure, to be used elsewhere.

    My handwriting is so bad, and my typing skills so poor, that the ability to erase and correct with the flick of a keystroke is something that I give thanks for on a daily basis.

  7. I don’t keep versions. I work on a master copy & make changes there. Since I edit as I go, I don’t have drafts. Keeps things simple.

    I love how my YA editor does everything electronically through Track Changes, including revision comments. No revision letter to interpret. No hard copies or colored pencils. No FedX. We even do the copy edit process this way too. It saves so much time.

    If I’ve worked on my book after I turned it in (which happened recently), I do what Joe M mentioned & Compare Docs. That worked well.

  8. A little manuscript story. It is one of my little corner of Kansas’ claims to literary fame.

    At the turn of the century, southeast Kansas was a hotbed of Socialism (I know . . . ) including the number one Socialist newspaper. Times changed. (Note: my building once housed the Bourbon County Socialist Party headquarters).

    In the 1980s, a worker cleaning out an old house found some boxes of nasty wet paper that he thought “looked important.” He took those boxes to Pittsburg Stage University. It turned out thoses boxes contained the original handwritten, in serialized form, manuscript of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” The 1905 version is shorter and considerably less explicit than the original.

    The “uncut” version has been repubbed a couple of times, including an edition by an anarchist press claiming the original was forcibly edited and purged by Doubleday to supress the truth.

    If you are of a mind, there is a fascinating and rather ego filled point/counterpoint in the comments on the Amazon page for the anarchist edition.

    So, I for one, love original drafts and manuscripts and hope writers keep them separate from the polished edited product. I think the world is a better place when we have the uncut edition of King’s “The Stand” and can find fascinating treasures like a box of wet documents in Kansas.

    Amazon page:

    http://tinyurl.com/7crdqup

    Terri

  9. I currently keep electronic versions of my manuscript but thats because at this stage my early drafts are so messy.

    As my initial drafts improve with experience I’d just as soon not save versions. Even though it’s all electronic files, it still can get confusing.

  10. I have a bunch of old manuscripts, Foul Matter copies after they went to press from my editor and I’ll scrap them eventually. Pitt has all of my rejection letters, marked manuscripts and a lot of crap of mine in their archives. They have the last family from notes to all of the foreign and domestic copies, I think.

    I also used to buy laser cartridges and crates of paper for the endless printing of copies and FedEx bills in triple digits. Now I hardly ever print out pages. Time changes all things. I do not miss those days.

  11. My attitude is much like Joe Hartlaub’s. I keep a separate file for each draft. Once in a while I’ll think something worked better in an earlier version, an I want to be able to go back and see if that is, in fact, the case. Usually it is not, so I can go about my business.

  12. John, Welcome, fellow Luddite! Our next meeting will be in a couple of weeks–I’ll send details by snail mail.

    My intention is to keep all my drafts and versions of a novel until it’s in print, at which time I purpose to delete the old files…and will probably get around to it someday.

    Thanks for sharing.

  13. Shrewd investments in the stocks of companies manufacturing slide rules, transistor radios, abacus (?abaci), typewriters, white-out and sturdy TV consoles has exhausted my funds for printing materials and FED EX. Thank goodness for electronic copies and e-mail.

    My problem is that it is too easy to copy or save various portions of my drafts/rough work. Like Joe and Clare i like to save things that may work elsewhere or I may reconsider in a current work. I need to hit ‘delete’ more. I have wasted a lot of time chasing what changes were made on what version/copy.

    I followed the lead of some KZers and recently purchased Scrivener. Hoping will facilitate better management of my work. Hoping my Luddite brain can get the program up and running. Does anyone know whether the disc thingie they sent me should be played at 33 or 45 rpm?

  14. I think one of the greatest tools of the century is the whole digital thing. I can’t even begin to think how I would have researched my current novel (set the future & the past) without the internet. When I finished the first draft I printed it, read it and promptly ignored it, even though I tried very hard to use it in service of revision as outlined in Write Great Fiction.

    On the other hand I loved to write with pen on paper. It’s all good.

  15. I wrote my first two novels longhand (in pencil). At the time, I didn’t have a typewriter, and computers were not yet widespread. I still have those manuscripts, complete with erasures and insertions from the margins, along with the typed versions which I did on a borrowed typewriter.

    BTW, great story about the Upton Sinclair manuscript, Terri Lynn.

  16. I do keep hard copies, because I’m a bit of a hoarder. They are starting to stack up, however, and I was admittedly relieved that most of the process with my latest manuscript involved electronic copies being shuttled back and forth.

  17. Once I’ve got a completed manuscript in draft form I tend to write over it in successive edits, but about once a week or so make a new copy with a new date on it. By the time a book is done, I have fifteen or twenty copies of gradually improving story that end up on an external hard drive, and one or two copies of the final product on paper in a three ring binder. A digital copy of the end product also gets saved to a CD that is kept separately. I have CD’s of various stuff that are nearly twenty years old…when writeable CD’s first came out.

    One thing to watch out for though with keeping digital copies for posterity is whether they can be read in the future. I used to keep stuff on 3.5 inch floppy disks, then on 100 mb ZIP disks and then tried 1 Gb Jaz disks. Try finding any new computer that can read any of those formats now. Likewise, CD’s will eventually fade out, probably in another decade. USB drives are in now, but may not last too much longer in their current state as newer tech takes the high road.

    In the 1980’s the Doomsday book was scanned and the images written onto 12 inch video disks. That information is now largely irretrievable due to technology and software obsolescence. The irony is that the original paper version is still in tact and readable after 1000 years.

  18. All these files…

    I love to edit on hard-copy. That said, I look at those paper stacks from time-to-time and grieve for the trees.

    I wish I felt as free as Jordan does…

    My digital files sometimes seem a morass – Joe Moore, I like your system (the alphabet) and may adapt it myself.

    Joe H. – you’re right…what if I need that scene for something in the future?

    What’s a writer to do? Terri Lynn’s story just goes to show you never know…

  19. Disaster recovery and emergency management are two areas where I have experience. My work in information technology especially guides my thinking. Technology scares me. I have seen just about every type of failure that can befall computers. My mantra: Don’t Trust Technology!

    Therefore, I make backups, lots of backups. I keep copies of everything on multiple hard drives, USB drives, thumb drives, CDs, even keeping copies offsite by storing hidden encrypted files on my web-hosting server. Therefore, I have copies of everything I have written saved at every stage of the project. If some future historian wants to rummage through the files, they can map my entire creative journey.

    Backups are useful for more than disaster recovery. Occasionally, I use them to recover scenes that I decide to add back into the story. Moreover, backups make for interesting dinner conversation. My brother asked if I made backups. I carry backups with me at all times. I pulled out my keychain to show him the thumb drive on it, and then dropped it in the pizza.

Comments are closed.

Technology Scares Me

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?
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