The Making of a Novel: The Beauty of Paper

11/08/2010 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This morning I printed out 60 pages of my new novel to read for the first time on paper. I sharpened a pencil, cleared some space at the kitchen table, made a cup of tea, sat down, and read what I have so far.

Why today? I'm not sure. It just felt right.

And what's the big deal about paper? Things look different on paper. They just do. You can read something a hundred times on the screen, but when you read it on paper, it has a different rhythm, a different sound. Your eye catches different things, and it feels somehow more real.

The sharpened pencil was important, too. I'm a big fan of pens -- red ones especially, and really fantastic black ones -- but there's nothing like a sharp #2 pencil -- the way it glides across the page, the smell of the lead, the fact that you can erase it.

I don't love my first page, and that's a problem. That "not love" stayed with me until about page three, when I felt the story really got rolling. I was reading along thinking it was pretty great, and then I hit a patch that went by too fast. I wrote a bunch of sentences in the margin, ran out of room, turned the page over and wrote on the back. I did that several times around page 30, and again towards page 60.

Now that stack of marked-up pages is sitting here on my desk waiting for me to enter the changes I made. I know from experience that I will change far more than I scratched out in the margins. Something about going from screen to paper and back to screen shakes things loose -- makes me see where things can be strengthened and improved. It's a part of the writing process I really like -- that self translation process. Some of my best writing is done in this way.

Although I don't love my first page, I feel very good about the story. Perhaps that's why I printed it out today: I knew I would like what I saw.

There are many fine writers who depend on this "self translation" method of writing and editing. Here are a few, which will lead you to many more: