The Paper Chase

Remember that old show? It was a novel, then a movie, then a TV series in the 70s about law school students, but I’m talking more literally.

As I write a manuscript, I print out the day’s writing and place it in a 3-ring binder. I also email the draft to both my accounts when I stop for lunch and when I’m done for the day. (Why, yes … yes I have lost work before. How did you know?)

When I’m completely done with the draft, I edit directly on the printout with a very sharp Ticonderoga #2. I type the changes into the computer, make it purty with the chapter headings at the top of the page and such, then email it to my husband to print a copy of the entire thing and drill it at our print shop.

I junk the one I scribbled all over and replace it in the binder with this shiny new one. The scribbled one goes into the fire pit when we have a backyard fire. Very cathartic, like offering all those words and images into the Universe.

The manuscript gets sent all over the place—to my beta readers, my editor, my Review Crew—and eventually it rises like a phoenix from my computer and becomes a book. Also very cathartic.

I keep that paper copy, research notes, outlines, and all the other paperwork that accumulates in my 3-ring binder that I then stick on a shelf. But when I finish one more book—which I’m more than halfway finished with right now—my designated shelf will be full.

It made me wonder what other authors did with all of their paperwork.

So I asked ‘em!

Here’s what some of the Chicks told me about their process.

Ellen Byron

The first photo is from when I tried to be organized with drafts and research. The second is after I gave up. Now I eventually recycle paper printouts once I’m done with a project and just keep online files.

Leslie Karst

I don’t print out my manuscripts. I guess it’s the “don’t waste the paper” angel on my shoulder that keeps me from printing it out, but then again, I’m so used to writing and editing on the computer (I did it for 20 years writing legal briefs and appeals), that I have no need for a hard copy. I save all my work in the cloud, via Dropbox and also emailing them to myself.

As for all my notes, hand-drawn calendars, saved articles, research materials, etc., I keep them in a manila folder in my file cabinet—one for each book.

Lisa Mathews

I did print out hard copies of late-stage Ladies Smythe and Westin manuscripts, but I’m not sure they were the finals.

Because the books were digital-first, my publisher did everything super-electronically from the start. I know I copied some stuff onto flash drives and cloud, but the e-pub files could only be downloaded for a certain amount of time. Then they disappeared, like disappearing ink. 

Jennifer Chow

I usually print out manuscript pages to edit and then recycle those. For the final versions, I save them on my computer or in the cloud. I do, however, keep my tattered journals with notes and outlines and random passages.

Here’s my disorderly line-up! 

Cynthia Kuhn

The printed manuscripts I’ve used for editing are recycled when the book is done, though I keep every digital draft version and notes. 

Vickie Fee

I print out hard copies to edit and proof. But I don’t save those. I have wadded up manuscript pages and used them as packing material in mailed packages. I save final manuscripts with notes from my editor on my computer/cloud.


Don’t you think it would be great fun to get a package from Vickie and see she’s stuffed it with wadded up pages from her manuscript? It would be like getting the inside scoop, or being privy to a secret. I also love it when people send me packages packed with wadded up newspaper pages. I smooth them out and read all their local news.

I really am a paper lover, if you couldn’t tell from that!

I find the processes by other writers absolutely fascinating, but it gives me sweaty palms just thinking about not having a paper copy of my work!

Did you like this peek behind the Magic Writer Curtain? What other writerly stuff are you curious about? What can we illuminate for you next?

38 thoughts on “The Paper Chase

  1. Ah, the Paper Chase. I watched that show. I was young, but I something about it really appealed to me.

    I’m with Leslie in the “I don’t print drafts” camp. Somehow, the idea of printing out 300 pages just horrifies me. I guess it’s my Franciscan college experience. I had printed pages for my critique group for a while; those got used when we light fires in the woodstove (although I never found them as good as newsprint for some reason).

    I always like peeks behind the curtain! Especially when it’s someone else’s curtain. LOL

    Liked by 7 people

    1. LOL, Liz! As long as the peeks don’t get all judgy about how much dust is on my shelves, I’m okay with it. Printing out my mss has never bothered me, since we own a printshop and it’s a commodity for me. Plus, hubs assures me the paper industry is sustainable. They’re replanting and recycling constantly. *sticks fingers in ears* so don’t tell me otherwise.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I edited my first book on paper, but after a couple drafts I soon realized that habit would cost a ton of money in toner. Maybe if I had a better printer I would have continued, but now I just do all of my editing on the computer. And yes to saving files everywhere!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Good point, Marla. I do worry about my printer, but by only doing my pages for the day, it doesn’t seem so worrisome. But it’s why I have hubs print the full ms at our printshop!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. This was great, ladies! I print out my manuscript when the first draft is complete, then give the printed copy the red pen treatment. It eventually gets recycled.
    What I’d love to know is how many rounds of revision your manuscripts go through before you turn them in to your editors. The fact that everyone’s process is so different is endlessly fascinating to me. Cheers!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. For me, JC, it’s just one round of edits. When I’m all done with the ms, I use the pages I printed out each day to edit in pencil. Then I type all the changes into the computer, and that’s the one I have hubs print out completely. It’s also the one I send to my agent and beta readers. So far, they haven’t come back with anything huge, so I just pencil in those changes on my ms (but don’t reprint it), type in on my master document, and send that one off to my editor. Then, when I get the copyedits back, I do the same thing. Usually the changes aren’t so dramatic that I need to reprint. But I do make sure to note them on my paper ms and in my master document. I learned that lesson when I got orphaned by my publisher. Having a current, clean document made everything so much easier when I got my rights back.

      And I agree … I LOVE hearing about everyone’s process!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Wish I were as organized as you are, Becky. I try to keep printouts to a minimum, but as an improviser I occasionally lose track of time lines and other details. When that happens, I’ll stop, print what I have, and review it before I move on. Those papers get recycled. I like your idea of burning them and offering the words up to the Universe. Nice!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thanks, Gay! I am very much a plotter. It gives me sweaty palms to think about backtracking or stepping too far off my path. I’m very linear when I write. And, yes, the fire pit makes for a good metaphor and a good s’more!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I really, REALLY need to have Vickie something me something so I can get a box of her outtakes.

    I neglected to mention that I do most of my work on the computer too, saving in three different places – two cloud files and a PC backup. Love reading how my fellow Chicks deal with this. I love paper, too. But oh, the guilt!

    Liked by 7 people

  6. I should probably have added that, since I have written full mss. since 1984 or so (I did a lot of pseudonymous work for hire), I had towering stacks of neat plastic tubs in the basement holding the mss. and my research notes (in case anyone wanted to argue with me about the Battle of Saratoga). I carted those tubs around with me for years, and kept clients’ ms. drafts upstairs in my office (how many file cabinets and bookshelves stacked with mss., not books? Don’t ask). Over the years, even in binders and/or tubs, I’ve found that the paper turns brittle, everything gets dusty, and the print fades until it becomes unreadable. Sometimes the mss. become literal mouse nests (is that offering to the universe, in a way?). So I have rethought the keeping-the-mss. idea. No mas.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. I too now want to receive a package from Vickie! And I’m with you, Becky, in that I love it when folks use newspapers as packing material–I love smoothing them out to see what’s going on in Wisconsin or Key West.

    As for not having a paper copy: but I do–it’s my published books!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Maybe online stores should have a box to check for those of us who want our packing material to be their local newspapers. I’d probably pay extra!


    1. That’s an experiment I would never have to do because I HATE reading or editing on my laptop. If I have to, I sent it to my kindle, but it’s hard to take notes there. Can’t wrap my brain around not using paper!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Becky, I’m in awe of how organized you and other Chicks are! And I’m a little surprised that some of you don’t need a paper copy for edits. Maybe it’s because I wrote for newspapers for so long (or maybe it’s the bifocals), but words just look different to me on paper!
    BTW, I’ll bring crumpled manuscript pages for all the Chicks at our next mystery con, LOL!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Agreed, I can’t imagine not using paper. I seem to be more focused when I read on paper, plus I can keep my pencil right in my grubby little hand. Seems my eyes cross and drift when I try to edit for long on the computer.


      1. (In fact, and don’t tell my editor, I’m on here avoiding the electronic edit they want me to do on a PDF version of Punning with Scissors. shh.)


  9. This is so fascinating! Becky, you are supremely organized. I used to think I was until I met you.

    I have a three-ring binder for each book too…I do the majority of my editing on the computer in various draft versions (which I also backup), but I do print out the first full draft, the publisher versions, and the proofs. In the back of the binder, I have the character list, maps for the locations, a calendar for whatever year I’m using so I can get the days right, and correspondence re: the project. And for no particular reason, I also have a little notebook that I scribble in while I’m writing. Sometimes I draw things in there too, like what a building or room looks like. Sometimes plot maps…or charts of character motivations or red herrings or whatever. Most often, a list of things that I need to add to the WIP.

    BUT I want to have a writer retreat with all the Chicks & Friends so we can peek at each other’s process in real time…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You ARE organized, Cynthia! But speaking for myself, if I was on a Chicks and Friends Writer’s Retreat, you wouldn’t be able to peek at my process because I wouldn’t be working … I’d be totally goofing off! (Can I still come??)

      Liked by 2 people

  10. So interesting to see the way each of you handle editing your WIP and what you do after it’s published. I’m not a writer (retired HS math teacher) but when I have something important to send to someone, whether by email or other means, I almost always print to do a final edit before I send it. If I don’t, I almost always find a glaring error after it’s out of my hands.

    Liked by 2 people

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