I revise effectively both onscreen and on paper, but I revise differently on paper. I work more at a macro scale. I’m more sensitive to proportion and rhythm and timbre. I see spaces and densities better: the clumps where the prose has grown too dense, the wandering of the path where I ramble, the seams that need to be closed, the misaligned joint that I suddenly realize — yeah; there it is! — is where that paragraph from three pages ahead belongs.
As Jonah asks, Why? Is the manuscript’s physicality giving me a greater sense of physical proportion? Does the act of pressing slickened grooves into the page with my fountain pen somehow invite a corresponding mental penetration? Is the curved, flexible rigidity of five sheets in my hand sharpening my awareness of texture? Or perhaps the slowness of my pen relative to the speed of my typing favors this more structural approach — big cross outs, sections circled and moved wholesale, massive reorganizations planned with quick scribbles in the margin — over the finer-grained tweaks and cutting-and-pasting the keyboard seems to encourage.
I don’t know. But I know it’s different. It’s like putting down your violin and climbing out of the string section to take the conductor’s podium. And it works reliably. I know that when my fifth or ninth or fifteenth onscreen edit isn’t getting me anywhere or is digging me deeper into some hole I can’t get the dimensions of, I can print the manuscript and get above ground and suddenly see things I was missing.
I have a similar need to edit a hard copy, and I feel a little anxious when time pressure pushes me to email a story I’ve edited only on the screen.