A writer friend who read Shock and Awe in manuscript form read it again when the hardback came out. She told me she liked it much better the second time. “Am I really that shallow?” she asked. “Should typesetting it and wrapping a cover around it make it seem better?”
I ought to note that more had been done than printing it up, of course: it had been edited. Nonetheless, the editing changes weren’t huge. So, my answer would be, Yes, you really are that shallow. And so, I think, are most of us.
One reason I don’t compose longhand—other than the drudgery of needing to type it all in later—is that my handwriting lacks authority in my eyes. It looks sloppy and scribbly, and, above all, it looks too much like I wrote it. I need the impersonal touch of type to be able to see it as prose. (I know a writer who counsels all his students not to write by hand because if you see it in your own handwriting it will seem better to you. This is a man who clearly has a different relationship with his handwriting than the one I have with mine.)
To me, format matters. It seems to affect my perceptions in a fundamental way. I revise on the screen as I write, but I still print out the pages the next day for polishing, because how I apprehend them on paper is different than on the screen. (And reading them aloud adds yet another facet.) In workshops or writing groups, when I’ve printed out full chapters for critiques, I invariably find something I want to change. And the whole thing looks different when the full manuscript is printed out, and startlingly different when galleys arrive. (I had to quell the urge to engage in substantial rewriting at the galley stage.)
Pamela reads books on her PalmPilot when she travels (and during boring meetings—don’t tell her bosses). She even has copies of my novels on there (there’s a dandy little piece of software that converts them). I find the format almost impossible to bear—yet there, once again, when I see my words in that tight, isolated format, I see them differently.
A writer over on the Absolute Write forum said that before he sent his manuscripts out to other writers for critique, he planned to use Lulu to print up paperback copies in typeset form. I’m not sure I’d go that far (though I can see the appeal). But I might print out my manuscript with something akin to book margins, book fonts, and book spacing to do a final edit. Anything closer to galleys would make me see it from a fresh perspective.