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Thursday, 12 November 2009

Word processing and Wordsworth

I'm sure many of us writers will have wondered how on earth any writer from the pre-computer age actually managed to edit work without the benefits of cut & paste, spell-check, grammar check etc. Now mired in the umpteenth draft of the second book, and moving around whole chapters from here to there, I am appreciating just how useful my computer is.

A few months ago I visited the Wordsworth Museum near my home and saw the multiple versions of poems written by William, but painstakingly copied in their various drafts by his dutiful younger sister Dorothy. Perhaps this was laziness on William's part, or more likely a common practice in earlier centuries, that the men wrote, and women or wives carefully copied it out every time their spouse wanted to make a change to the text. A labour of love, if ever there was one. It is also fun to speculate and wonder how many women slipped in a few of their own alterations?
Dorothy Wordsworth

I still write out some things by hand, but not much. Mostly I type direct onto the screen and only print out at the end of the first draft, then again when I'm at approximately the 2nd, 3rd  drafts - though I have to say the process of deciding - "I've reached the third draft now, better print it out and re-read it" - is a bit arbitrary. Mostly I've been tinkering about since the first so-called draft, and after that the whole revising and editing process is ongoing. But agents/publishers and other people are always more likely to be impressed if you say you are working on the third draft than if you say you are still working on the first! All I can say is, thank goodness the machine does the hard work of crossing out and re-ordering, and I am not reliant on a long-suffering relation to do it for me.

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