The virtual red pen

Paper-free proofreading

I spend a great deal of my time writing. Blog posts, web content, fiction – words area substantial part of my livelihood.

After trying several writing tools over the years, I’ve settled on Literature & Latte’s Scrivener, an application which has never failed to cope with anything I’ve thrown at it – whether that be planning and plotting a long form story; creating structured web content; or even writing short blog posts like this.

Of course, part of the writing workflow is proofreading and editing: taking the creaky and awkward first drafts which have often been blurted out in a single writing session, and going over them carefully looking for errors or ways to make them flow better.

Traditionally, this stage would be done with a printed copy of the original, and – even more traditionally – a big fat red pen, allowing scribbled corrections and notes to be scrawled over the manuscript before returning to the final editing stage.

No printer? No problem

However, I don’t have a printer. Not because I’m some kind of eco-warrior who believes paper is condemning our planet to a treeless existence, but more due to the fact I’ve never actually had the need to own one.

And, thanks to the usability and elegance of the iPad, a stylus and the invaluable GoodReader app, I can still make red marks to my heart’s content without worrying about physical piles of paper teetering on top of my desk.

My editing workflow

Instead, I use the following workflow:

  • Using Scrivener’s powerful ‘compile’ feature, I’ll export the piece as a PDF: formatted into nice easy-on-the-eyes double-spaced copy in a legible monospaced font.
  • Then, still at my Mac, I’ll upload this to Dropbox, the indispensable cloud-based storage solution which allows you to access your files anywhere you have an internet connection.
  • Now, it’s over to the iPad. Using the Dropbox app, I’ll navigate to the file I just uploaded and open it up in GoodReader
  • Then I create an annotated copy of the original and, using a simple iPad stylus and GoodReader’s freehand tool (naturally set to red), I’ll start making notes, corrections and scrawls on the PDF
  • The manuscript and the annotated copy side-by-side in Scrivener

    The manuscript and the annotated copy side-by-side in Scrivener

  • Once finished, I save the annotated version back to Dropbox then return to the Mac. There, I’ll open up the original manuscript side-by-side with the edited copy, using Scrivener’s split-screen layout mode. This allows me to view my corrections – red pen marks and all – and easily apply them to the original

Paper-free, hassle-free

As a fan of cloud computing and efficient workflows, I find this works perfectly for my needs. It’s an example of different applications and technologies working in tandem together to allow me to work in a manner which wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago.

It saves me time – and yes, it saves on paper (and red ink) too.

And of course, it means all my blog posts should in theory at least be 100% error-free…


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