I wrote a novel in the back seat of a car once.


The Red Pen Edit

So a small window into how the sausa—no. Not going there. It’s a terrible turn of phrase. 

As of a few years ago, I do all of my drafting in Scrivener, either on my Mac or my iPad. Once a draft is completed, I export the document in manuscript format to a PDF. Then I open the PDF in GoodReader for iOS on my iPad, and start what I call “the red pen edit.”

This is where I grab a cheap stylus (I bought a pack of 20 for around $5 a few years back, and have lost all but three of them) and mark up the PDF as if I were using a pen on a physical stack of pages. Years ago, before the modern age, I did this edit in pencil on an actual stack of pages. My father still works this way. I would, too, but I can’t really lug my manuscripts around and I prefer to do the red pen edit in noisy places (i.e., not the comfort of home, where I’ll end up horizontal on the couch watching Netflix).

Most of the red pen edit is done with the stylus, scribbling my notes in the margins. It used to be that 100% of the edit was done this way, but a few months back I decided to be generous to my future self and actually write new material on the fly.  I used to just write “more” or “better” or “in dialogue” or “this sucks what were you even thinking” and tell my future self to make the adjustments later, back in Scrivener.

Except my future self tended not to actually do that, and just skipped over the hard work, making me do it all over again in the next red pen edit. So now, more and more frequently, I attach a keyboard to my iPad and type in comment notes that will eventually get folded into the main text. I still use the red pen for quick notes, minor corrections and the like. But any big textual changes (in particular, additions) get typed into the document. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I’m still lazy. 

After the red pen edit is complete, I pull Scrivener for iOS up alongside GoodReader and start typing in the changes. (This is where I’m supposed to flesh out those “more” notes). 

After that’s done, I then go back into Scrivener on the Mac (once everything is synced) and recompile a manuscript draft as PDF. And start the whole process again. 

I usually produce somewhere between seven and ten drafts before I send a manuscript to Reader One. When I get those notes back (and have a Skype call to go over the suggestions) I then red pen edit those notes and suggestions in, and iterate through a few more drafts before it goes back out to Reader One for a second pass.

My habits are fairly inefficient. I’m trying to get better at the process. Really what I need to do is collapse a lot of the iterations into a single pass, densely annotated, with full commented textual additions and none of the laziness.

Future Me will be happy on the day I can pull that off. 

Kevin Munoz