Writing Without Paper

When I wrote my first and second novels (the under-the-couch novels, the up-on-the-top-shelf-of-the-closet novels) I would print out after every chapter. Then I’d line edit, enter the edits, and print again. If I changed a sentence on page 10, I’d print out page 10 again instead of having the handwritten edit on it, and if page 10 reflowed pages 11 and 12 and so on, I’d print out those too. I don’t want to know how many trees I sawed through with my printing obsession, knowing, especially, how long my couch novels were: 500 pages; 345 pages, respectively. It was bad. I was a bad person.

Why the printouts? I loved the feeling of holding my words in my hands. I loved seeing my sentences carved out in Times New Roman, how crisp they seemed, how real. The books felt more solid when seen on a page. And it felt like there was nothing more satisfying than holding the weight of all my work physically in my arms. With my first novel especially I was known to hole-punch all the pages and carry around the section I was working on in a binder. I’d bring this binder with me when I went to my day job, a long subway ride away, even if I knew I wouldn’t have time to even look at the pages there. I’d be scrambling around at work, feeling the insignificant nothingness the job of a thankless assistant can settle on you, and then I’d glance down at my bag. And I knew, in it, was my manuscript. And I felt like I had a secret. And it exhilarated me.

I remember, at a writers colony I went to, hearing one woman talk about how she worked on her manuscript, a memoir, which sounded especially difficult for her to write. Every night, she’d take her printed pages to bed with her. She slept with them beneath her pillow and would wake up clutching them in her arms. The book spent its nights touching her, seeping into her subconscious through her skin. We, the other writers eating dinner with the writer who made this confession, may have chuckled at her attachment to her manuscript… But how many of us went back alone to our studios that night and were tempted to do the same?

As for me, after couch novels #1 and #2, I stopped with the printouts. I don’t want to waste the paper. I’m trying to be environmentally conscious. I barely print anything anymore, until it’s done (and often not even then). When I edit, I do it with tracked changes in the electronic file. I save many versions, a new one for each day. But…

But, I have to tell you, as I write my manuscript now, there’s something missing.

I feel separated from my words.

I am dying to print out my manuscript, though I don’t have all of it yet. I am dying to hold it, to feel its weight, to put my fingers on the lines and follow them down the page. I’m telling myself I am not allowed to print until I write to the end of the book. But…

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to hold out.

Why is it, how is it, that all my progress doesn’t feel like progress at all if I can’t reach out and touch it? Maybe, in the future, someone will invent writing software that creates virtual holograms of your manuscripts, so you can cuddle and stroke and sleep curled up with your work, even if the only space it takes up on the table is air.


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