As publication of In The Mouth Of The Whale
inches closer, I'm working on what I hope is the penultimate draft of the next novel, Evening's Empires
. My first short stories and my first novel were composed entirely on a typewriter; while I confess to a certain minor nostalgia for the only forward method typewriters imposed on you, I don't miss interleaving bond, carbon and bank (onionskin) papers, necessary to get a duplicate copy in a time when photocopies were scarce and expensive, and I was never a big fan of Tipp-ex
and other correction fluids, or retyping a page if it contained more than three errors in it. I was an early adopter of word-processing and love its fluidity of composition, but I still maintain one tradition from the old keys-on-ink-ribbon-on-paper days: I still print out at least one draft of whatever I'm working on, and go over it with a red pen in hand.
Which is what I'm doing right now. Because I have the idea, never tested, that it is easier to spot goofs on the printed page rather than on the screen, I prefer to annotate hard copy than make electronic notes. (Has anyone ever done a serious study of this? If not, surely it wouldn't be too hard to set up a randomised experiment where, say, half the test subjects proof-read a text on screen and the other half proof-read it on paper, and then swapped from screen to paper and vice versa and corrected another text.) Some of my corrections are of punctuation and spelling; others highlight instances of repetition, correct factual errors, or change the order of a sentence to eliminate ambiguity. But the most important changes are the notes to myself about glitches in plot, action, and character. Some are terse; others spill all the way down the page, or are linked by looping arrows to paragraphs at the top or bottom of the page; really serious second thoughts are continued on the blank side of the page, with the command OVER written in the margin and underscored two or three times so I don't miss the annotations when I start over, and begin to make changes on screen. At this point, I'm the first person to read through the entire novel; I realise that I've become kin to the kind of creature who annotates library books with scornful exclamation marks and sarcastic underlinings.