I’m one of those writers who can’t edit on a computer. After I write something, I’m always forced to print it out on dead trees, so that I can fix my sentences. When I try to edit on the computer, I always miss repetitions, redundancies and other bits of bad writing that I easily catch when I’ve got the pages in my hand.
I know several other writers who suffer from a similar dependence on the printed word. But why does this effect exist? Why is it so much harder to edit on a computer?
I suppose one possible answer is habit. Perhaps there’s some critical period of reading and writing, and my brain never learned how to properly read on a computer screen. Perhaps. I guess one way to test this hypothesis is to see if younger generations have gotten better at editing on computers, since they were (presumably) exposed to computers at a younger age.
Another explanation is that reading physical pages (as opposed to electronic Word files) triggers some extra bit of Broca’s/Wernicke’s area, which makes us more sensitive to sentences. This second explanation makes more sense to me, since I can construct a rather lame just-so story in support of it. Reading is a complicated sensory act, and our brain evolved this talent in the context of a physical text (papyrus, sheepskin, etc). Replace that physical text with a flat computer screen and you’ve got a slightly out of sync brain, which can’t quite get used to the disembodied nature of electronic writing.
Obviously, both of my explanations suck. Can you do better? Why do I have to waste paper and ink on my own bad prose?