Friday, June 22, 2012

The Power of the Page

We have all heard stories of some author or another falling asleep by the fire and having his manuscript destroyed. I think those days are gone forever. Some of us don’t even have drafts to drop into a fire. We might have accidentally erased things, or even had computers die on us, but when entire manuscripts exist, pre-publication, only in the virtual world, we find we have entered a whole new realm.

What is a manuscript? If it’s not something written on paper, what is it? And, suddenly, books are not even written on paper. We can carry around two hundred books in our pockets. This is good for fire prevention, since we store our virtual material all over, in all different virtual venues. But what about the romance of the manuscript? WE can’t sign ebooks. We don’t marvel over first drafts on our flashdrives. Will a flashdrive with a first draft be worth something someday?

As we mourn the passing of Ray Bradbury, Maurice Sendak, and others, could we imagine a world where their work exists only virtually? Think of all the handwritten manuscripts, whether they are in the hand of Dickens or Beethoven. When we see those scribbles, we feel the humanity. We feel closer to the ancient minds when we get to see the magic from the hands they led to create. Is all that lost forever?

I do print out a draft and hand edit. At least, I did on the last book. This time, I haven’t had the time so my newest book exists only in the ether and in my mind. No one will ever see my scribbles or the splotch of coffee or the reminder to bring a snack for my youngest that I jotted down in the margins. There’s nothing about the virtual manuscript that shows the humanity of the author.

Even in our diaries and journals, we are losing the intimacy of the hand. How many of us keep paper calendars or diaries? Have we lost something for posterity?

Perhaps there will be ways around this. Perhaps not. We can argue that it’s not how but what when it comes to something written. Perhaps the page will pass into oblivion and no longer be important in the world. But if it will no longer be important, we lose something. We may never again be able to feel the author, revealed, on the page.

Thanks for reading!

Eden Unger


  1. Even the first manuscript I started but never finished when I was 13 was written on an old computer. I definitely think there is a kind of magic to the hard copy version of any writing.

  2. Interesting post, Eden. Right now I'm doing a revision on a paper copy--something I haven't done in a while---and I'm enjoying it, but most of my drafts stay on the computer. This is something satisfying about working on paper,

    1. I had to edit a short section of the second YIG book for a cross curriculum project and it made me feel like we miss something when we don't have paper in our hands. electronic edits, even comments, don't have a 'feel' to them, the way jotted notes do, you know?

  3. I almost always start a new piece by hand. There is an immediacy there (and less formality -- I trick myself into thinking I'm just playing with words). I also keep all my research notes in a notebook.

    When it comes time to revise, I'll print things up, have it bound at Office Max (for easy reading), and transfer my critique partners' comments onto the draft. Writing their words forces me to fully process them. This is especially helpful when there are multiple comments about a particular passage. Seeing (and writing) them down together shows me where the big work needs to be done.

  4. I used to write by hand but not anymore. My mind thinks to fast and I just want to get it out like I'm afraid I'll forget what to write. Now I take my little notebook computer with me everywhere.

  5. I still keep a diary on paper and though I've long since grown out of hiding mine, I hope kids still hide paper diaries. How can you hide a digital file under the mattress or behind the couch?

  6. Not having a portable computer, I still do a lot of writing by hand. I like having the paper documents stuck away after I've transcribed it into the computer.
    Fire still scares me, though.

  7. My first drafts are always handwritten, on a notepad, receipts, post-it notes, napkins, etc. It is a collage-ish art form of its own! ;-)

  8. It is weird, though. what about signing books? Can we really sign e books? And what does that mean? It's like a hologram of a vase of flowers. You can see it and enjoy it, but it is not really there. that said, I have piles of drafts I am recycling since they're really just printed computer copies of drafts revised. I've kept a few drafts that actually have notes and jottings and smudges.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!