“Troglodyte,” I muttered under my breath. Clearly he didn’t understand the power of computers; he would have probably suggested I use an actual TYPEWRITER if he knew I owned one. I mean the beauty of word processing is that it offers tools every writer loves: the File–Save As, the Copy/Paste, the Cut/Paste, the Search-and-Replace, Spell Check, not to mention the Undo!
And then something happened. I got stuck. I didn’t know what to work on next, where to begin… and so in frustration, and rather than stare at the computer screen for hours, toggling between the chapter called “Big Messy Chapter 4”, Facebook, and email, I decided to give it a try, the re-typing thing. Maybe I would feel like I was doing something other than stare. Maybe some sort of muscle memory of writing would take over and I could just write again.
I stacked my earlier drafts on my desk (not the one pictured above), created a new Word document, titled it “Starting from Scratch,” and began typing. From the very beginning. As I typed I looked at the comments from my professor and my colleagues. When I saw a section wasn’t working, I didn’t re-type it. When the comments were something like “say more” or “not clear” or “and what do you think of that NOW” I would try to answer those comments as I retyped. Sometimes a re-typed sentence would become a paragraph of NEW writing. Sentences that needed restructuring got restructured. Paragraphs that were not in the right place, were typed into the proper section. And the best part, the person typing the new draft, was the person who had learned from the earlier draft, who had a different take on it, who was wiser than the person on the page. In this way I deepened the reflection, and looked for smarter, more creative ways to say something.
I can’t tell you how it irks me that this is one more thing my adviser was right about, but now I swear by this method. I use it for almost every revision. And I’ve thought a lot, and for me there are a couple of reasons why this works.
First, if you’re as obsessive about polishing prose as I am, each time you “touch” a sentence you look at it for improvements. You change a word, you move a phrase, you make it better. And by re-typing an entire poem/essay/short story/ book you take the opportunity to examine every single sentence at the letter-by-letter level.
And most importantly: we’ve all heard some version of the advice, “you have to be willing to kill your darlings,” a quote attributed to everyone from William Faulkner, some dude named Sir Arther Quiller-Couch, and more recently Stephen King. But the truth is: it is painful to “kill your darlings,” to hit the delete key and disappear those perfectly forms bits of prose that either leapt from the tips of our fingers fully fledged, or were toiled over for days, weeks maybe, years even. It’s like ripping a little piece of your heart out.
BUT… if you re-TYPE, you don’t have to Select/Delete. You don’t have to CUT those words out…. you just don’t bring those words into the new document.
So set aside your doubts and give it a try then let me know how it works for you.