Shades Of Gray

19 03 2007

I’m not an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination. That said, I’m not particularly fond of wastefulness either, and I’ve always felt that taking care of the environment and wisely using its resources are matters of responsible living, rather than a political ideology.

I have never been comfortable with the admonition of my fellow writers that I must edit from printed copy. I understand the reasoning behind it, of course. There are certain things that I simply will not see when I am staring at page after page of text displayed upon a computer monitor. My first idea was to print my rough draft single-spaced in two columns, using a font other than the one that I normally work in (courier new, 12). This cuts the manuscript length in half, and it has the added advantage of forcing my mind to see the words rather than the story that they are telling.

That worked. Then I came up with the idea of using the backs of these printed pages for future rough draft edits. This works too, and I intend to save all paper that has only been printed on one side specifically for this purpose. You would be surprised at how much 8.5 X 11 paper with only one printed side winds up in your house. I get it from my son’s teacher, flyers left under the windshield of my car, all sorts of places. Of course, the paper needs to be in relatively good condition (not folded) or it will jam in the printer. But it works.

Still, I wasn’t really saving paper so much as I was just better making use of it. Some might say that I was saving the paper that I would have wasted had I not printed on the backsides of the pages that I had already wasted, but I think that is a straw argument. The point is to not waste any paper at all. My completed, pristine manuscript all neatly printed out and sitting on an editor’s desk is not a waste of paper (to me, at least, the editor’s opinion may differ from mine). Printing my novel out when I know that I am eventually going to send it all through the shredder is a waste of paper, and I don’t like it.

Enter my newest idea. I suppose other people do this; I have no reason to suspect that I invented it. I copy and paste my novel into separate chapter files, mostly because it seems a little easier to work with them in smaller portions. Then I use that nifty little “highlighter” feature in Word (yes, it is the first thing about Word that I can honestly say I like) and highlight the entire chapter in 25% gray. Working my way down the chapter, I un-highlight each sentence–one sentence at a time–so that it goes back to the original white. When I have checked that sentence for all of the stuff that needs checking and made any changes that need making, then I highlight it in 50% gray and move on to the next sentence. The whole point is to isolate each sentence (you could work in larger chunks, I suppose) from the rest of the text, and the two shades of gray help keep my eyes and mind from wandering up and down the screen reading the story instead of looking at the words themselves.

It should be noted that this sort of intense line-edit can only be done after I am finished (or at least think I am finished) with the story editing. I don’t need a print-out to story edit, and with this nifty new (new to me, anyway) method, I think I can work my way to final draft with no paper wasted on line-editing.

And of course, that means there should be plenty of paper left to print my books on when the editors do finally recognize my artistic brilliance. Or, lacking that artistic brilliance, at least no one can blame me if we run out of paper or we all start choking to death on carbon dioxide. It’s all good.

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