Monday, 1 October 2012

The Beauty of the Manuscript



There is a simply, rugged beauty in the heavily crossed-out typescript. The lines interweaving all over the place; the different coloured pen ink; the non-descript arrows running down the margins and across lines of text; the constant mark of “stet” in a little circle above a crossed out word; the crossing out of crossings out with a wonky line; and the notes in pencil to see page so-and-so.

In about every mass-media article about the typewriter being ‘rediscovered’ they mention the “distraction free” writing, and the way it makes you “think” as a writer. It isn’t only that. You can actually see what is being written. There it is. Oh, look at that: what a poor choice of word. You can see the whole sheet of paper at the same time. None of this scrolling business to find a passage. You can spread the pages out across a desk top (the kind that doesn’t have a taskbar). But its the editing, the revision, that I really find joy in.

Crossing stuff out. The destruction of words. It’s enjoyable. My father calls it “cutting the crap”, it’s discovering what should have been written in the first place. Any word processor doesn’t handle red ink like it’s red ink. The closest thing is tracked changes. An inferior copy, a cheap imitation.

Writing cannot be done in my mind without the feel of a fountain pen traversing typed copy.

It’s why I struggle with a word processor. I can’t see the layers of revision. I can’t go back to something I’d written earlier with the simple mark of “stet” enclosed in a bubble. The typewritten manuscript allows every stage of improvement to be seen, and where it came from. That’s why it’s fascinating looking at manuscripts. Typewritten, handwritten, it doesn’t really matter. As long as they’re messy.

The typewritten manuscript allows a little window into how the writer writes. Whether they like it or not. The reader can see so much: where do they put they’re page numbers – the centre or the edge? Do they even use page numbers?  What colour pen do they revise in? Do they have small margins or big ones? Do they indent their paragraphs?

The sheet of manuscript presented at the beginning of this post is the first page of the second draft of my anti-homework essay. It’s a long awaited project. It’s supposed to prove that homework is in fact no good, but I think what it will prove is that I’m good at whingeing. This single sheet shows that I keep having different ideas, not really show where I’m taking the essay – even in the second draft. References are still sought, and it shows that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. It’s fantastic to see all of this at once.

In one-hundred year’s time I sincerely wonder whether anyone will be interested in looking at the neatly laser printed, word processed manuscript of Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t think so.


  1. Some excellent points here.

    When I want to get a piece of writing really polished, even if I wrote it by computer I have to print it out and mark the paper. You see things you wouldn't have noticed when the text takes a stable, material form.

  2. I agree. That's all I am going to say, I agree!