Every week a couple of friends and I trade ten pages of whatever project we are working on. At the end of the week, we video chat and talk about what we thought of each others work. It keeps us writing, and gives us a chance to collaborate with each other. It’s also an excuse for us to stay in touch.
As I was sitting and going through their pages, dutifully making copy editing marks and writing suggestions in the margins, I realized something: I am the only person I know who is still doing edits by hand like a caveman. At least in a non-news format. This could possibly be because I’m a hermit. Hermit or not, I’ve never had a freelance client ask for copy editing by hand (not that I have a bunch of them), and come to think of it, my friends didn’t ask me to either.
I remember the first time I saw handwritten copy editing marks. I was a student at the Defense Information School learning how to be a military journalist. They tossed us a piece of paper with a guide on it and another piece of paper with a couple of poorly written paragraphs and said, “Have at it.” I fumbled through the assignment, marking away, thinking I was catching all the mistakes, and handed it in for review. They handed me back a copy of what it should have looked like and I was dumbstruck by how much I had missed. The confusion, the artistry!
Time went on, and I got better at it. It started becoming second nature. Then I graduated, found out the whole world uses word processors, and never really used them again unless asked to (rarely). However, on independent projects they are my go-to. Why?
The more I thought about it, the more I sensed it is a piece of me clinging to something time and technology has started to evolve out of existence. There is a physical connection when you hold a piece of paper in your hand, read it, and take the time to leave your mark on it. It feels more permanent compared to the blinking cursor of word processors, and markup modes stark red line cutting into the margin with the correction annotated.
To me, it’s the difference between an email and a handwritten letter from a friend. It’s the contrast between the slickness of an eReader and the coarseness and heft of a paperback. Just as our feelings change with the medium, our abilities change with our surrounding. I like to copy edit sitting in comfy clothes on the couch with my feet up and a pile of style guides and dictionaries next to me. I like to do it with my six-month-old strapped to my chest while I walk around the house reading out loud to check for flow. It’s a soothing meditation for me.
Well today was clearly more of a mindless rant than anything else. If you read it, I hope you enjoyed the read. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!