Tag Archives: technology

The Basics of Editing On-Screen

Most of the writers I know do their writing on-screen. Naturally, that means they also do their editing on-screen.

Editing on-screen is, admittedly, not as much fun as editing on paper, when we got to use colored pencils and make arcane hieroglyphic marks that the uninitiated couldn’t translate.

But these days, it’s necessary. Whether you’re editing your own writing (see http://wp.me/p4e9wS-rS) or someone else’s, it needs work. It’s a mistake to take the first outpourings of your brain and slap them up on WordPress or LiveJournal. Even if you’re a fantastic writer with brilliant thoughts, there are many glitches possible between your mind and what you offer to the public.

I write mostly in WordPress and Microsoft Word and edit mostly in Word or PowerPoint. But whatever the platform, there are certain similarities. Here are some techniques that will make your on-screen editing easier and more accurate.

Editing Ergonomics. This may sound obvious, but with wide-screen monitors taking over America’s desktops, perhaps it needs to be said: Center the page you’re editing directly in your line of sight. And remember to blink so your eyes don’t dry out. You already do that, don’t you? Find a type size that’s comfortable for you (175–200% enlargement is about right for my feeble eyes).

Periods and Spaces. Forget all the arguments. The standard for anything that is to be read on-screen is one space after a period. Period. Many writers don’t know this, and even those who do may lapse into their old typewriter ways and automatically, robotically, put in two spaces.

Fortunately, there is a cure – Find and Replace. All you have to do is ask the computer to find two spaces and replace them with one. Ask it to replace all the double spaces it finds in one go. Then save (for heaven’s sake!). Voilà! Your manuscript is now up to date in the format accepted by online publications.

Use Your Tools. Word processors these days have built-in tools that check your spelling, your grammar, your word count, and sometimes even your lexile. (Why is lexile important? It’s a readability score that indicates whether you’re writing at, say, a fifth-grade reading level or a seventh-grade level or a twelfth-grade one. A ninth-grade level is usually acceptable for a general audience.) Add-on tools also exist, such as Grammarly, which checks your writing on the fly and suggests what you might have meant or how you should have punctuated it.

Don’t Trust Your Tools. For most problems, you can, but sometimes you know better than the computer what you mean to say. For example, my computer flagged “lexile” and wanted to know if I meant “exile” or “flexible.” (I didn’t.) There are thousands of autocorrect memes floating around out there that show just how funny or horrible the results can be. Nor will spelling/grammar checkers catch everything. I just typed “Thre” for “There” and the program didn’t flag it.

Remember Your Low-Tech Editing Habits. Read over your finished piece slowly, or, better still, aloud. Put it away for a few hours at least, or preferably a day, and reread it. Slowly. Concentrate on a paragraph at a time, then go back and read the whole piece straight through. Double-check the spelling of names and places, another thing spelling checkers may overlook. (Although I just wrote a piece using the name “Semelweis” and the checker suggested “Semmelweis,” which was indeed correct.)

Have Someone Else Read Your Piece. You may be writing all alone in your Fortress of Solitude, but there’s a world of people out there who may be glad to look over your work before you release it into the wild. (Also some who won’t, so you may want to set up an arrangement with a trusted friend or a writer’s group.) Shoot the piece off by email and get replies the same way, or using those handy electronic Post-It Notes or comment features.

As time passes, fewer and fewer people will have those old typewriter and pen-and-paper habits. Even those born writing on-screen can use a few reminders, though. But on-screen or off, remember that there is still no substitute for a pair of human eyes and a human brain. Blaming errors on the technology is a cop-out – you’re the writer; you are responsible for the finished product.

Social Life on Social Media

Nothing can beat a cup of tea and an intimate chat with a close friend. Or a warm hug from someone dear. Certainly not technology.

Except that my husband, my mother-in-law in Pennsylvania, and I have koffee klatches every Sunday. A friend and her granddaughter in Colorado Skype games of charades. I belong to support groups with members in Germany and Australia.

Before you say that pre-smart telephones could be used for most of these connections, think about the lack of video on old-fashioned phones, the difficulties of multi-person teleconferences, and the lack of ways to share photos and videos across the country, or even across continents. Mail can’t provide the immediacy; landlines can’t provide the visuals. Only computers and the Internet can put together the complete package.

Without the Internet, I wouldn’t have heard about my Girl Scout friend’s brain surgery until after it happened. We only recently got back in touch, but she posted daily updates. I couldn’t have expected daily phone calls.

Without Facebook, I wouldn’t have seen my great-nephews having breakfast with their father or shared awful jokes with my husband’s niece. Think of the phone bills I would have if I passed a joke along to all my other friends!

Without instant messages, I wouldn’t have been able to give a a dear old friend confidential news and personal advice that wouldn’t be overheard.

Sure, there’s a special quality to a face-to-face conversation. No electronic gizmo can replace the intimacy of a hug. You can’t dry someone’s tears over a cable modem. But there are times when you need to cry without letting the other person know you’re weeping, to listen to a confidence without showing that you’re shocked, to share a family moment without admitting that you’re alone.

Without computer technology, it would be much more difficult – if not impossible – to keep up with my friends in Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Ventura, Newcastle, and Mumbai. For that matter, it would be an almost prohibitive hassle to telecommute with a company 75 miles from my home.

I know that the good old telephone and U.S. mail are still available when I need them. They let me arrange an evening with a high school friend who’s still in town. They let me send presents at birthdays, or Christmas, or just because.

But, to tell the truth, most of those gifts are selected, paid for, and scheduled for delivery with electrons and pixels. The songs I share are mp3s, the pictures jpegs, the personally designed cards ordered from who-knows-where.

I’m closer to the people I want to be close to, even if we’re physically far apart.

Perhaps we only share coffee virtually, but still we share.