Left Brain, Meet Right Brain

When I was in my early twenties and working on magazines, co-workers said that I was a perfect combination of my author mother and computer-programmer father: exactly half creative-type, half geek.

Apparently, this genetic legacy was also good preparation for my current mission: going paperless with the writing/revision process. There are two catches: 1) I want to end up with my copy just as clean as if I were reading on paper, and 2) I’m stuck with the limitations of Mac for Word.

The short version is that I’m editing & taking notes on the Kindle, then entering changes on my Mac, then asking my computer to compare the old and new manuscripts so I can check to make sure I’m not introducing new issues. Here’s the long version:

1) I dump the manuscript to Kindle (third gen) and have the Kindle read it aloud to me while taking notes directly on the device. (This gives me a break from my computer, because in the absence of paper, I spend waaaay too much time in front of the screen. You can also have your Mac read out loud to you. )

2) I save the original Word doc under a new name, then enter changes by propping the Kindle up against my screen and using Cmd-F to search for the sections I want to alter. (The Kindle generously provides me with a few sentences of context along with my notes, so I can find them easily by searching on less-frequently-used words.)

3) I keep running notes on which sections of the MS have been changed most so I can reread them. If you use Word on a Windows machine, you can skip this step AND section 4 and just compare versions in Word itself.

4) I use the Mac’s command line to do a comparison between the original Word doc and the revised one (which I saved under a new name :-)). I save both files as text documents, choosing the “Other encoding” option, selecting “Western (ASCII)” in the drop-down, and checking the “Allow character substitution” box. For ease, I save the two docs as “TitleA” and “TitleB.” Then I launch the Mac Terminal program, CD to the directory my files are saved in, and type, “diff -w TitleA.txt TitleB.txt >compare.txt” You substitute your own file names for TitleA and TitleB and call the compare.txt document whatever you want–that’s the document that will show you the changes you’ve made.

5) I read the compare.txt file (you can open it in Word), making sure I haven’t introduced any new mistakes, then re-read the sections of the manuscript I’ve flagged in step 3 to check for flow issues.