I went to Fed-Ex Kinko’s the other day and had them print out a hard copy of the Eighteen Crossroads draft, which is currently 178 pages long (just under 55,000 words).  This was not a task I wanted to do at home, since I wasn’t sure my printer could handle it, and in any event, I knew I wouldn’t have enough ink.

I handed my flash drive to the girl at the counter, and she asked if I wanted single- or double-sided pages.

I hadn’t realized printing this thing would present me with dilemmas.

Double-sided printing would make it look and feel more like a real book.  It was tempting.  But it’s not a book yet—it’s only a working draft (and an unfinished one at that), and I was printing it, after all, to work on it.

Single-sided, I said.

Then she asked if I wanted it bound.  Again, it was tempting; binding it, of course, would make it look and feel like a real book.  But again, I hesitated.  Remember your purpose here, I told myself.  But I pictured a box full of loose pages and knew that would be potentially even worse.

So I had her three-hole punch it and stick it in a loose-leaf binder.  (It’s a binder, right?  So it’s bound.)

I’ve been carrying this thing pretty much everywhere with me all week, and have been reading it just as if I were reading a real book—which means I’ve been interacting with it, interrogating it, engaging with it, and sometimes talking to it, either in writing (I always read with a pen in hand) or out loud.

It has a lot of good spots in it. . .  And a lot that aren’t so good.  Printing on one side was a good idea, it turns out, because in addition to writing in the margins as I usually do, I’ve been using the blank sides of the facing pages to write notes.

Lots and lots of notes.  In fact, that’s the only writing I’ve done this week.

There are only a few stories that aren’t drafted yet, and I wanted to get a feel for exactly where the novel as a whole was at before writing them.  Where am I now, and where do I need to go?  What do these so-far-unwritten stories need to do, in order for the novel to maintain (or even achieve) the coherence I want it to have?

A conventional novel, one that starts with a beginning and moves logically (and at least fairly linearly) toward a conclusion, generally has a pretty identifiable coherence to it.  But Eighteen Crossroads isn’t a conventional novel, and I’m finding it trickier to identify the degree to which the necessary elements are clicking together the way they’re supposed to.  The novel as a whole should certainly have an overall coherence, yes, but as this is a collection of short stories that also need to be able to stand alone, this is not a single linear story, and it’s not supposed to be.  Each stand-alone is a sort of vignette from an individual life, and collectively, they also have a larger meaning, a significance that reaches beyond this particular family.

Or that’s the plan, anyway.  And I’ve been surprised at the places where the book so far does, and does not, seem to be achieving the goals I’ve set for it.

There have been other surprises this week as well.  More than anything, I’ve been surprised to discover that reading the hard copy is different from reading the electronic copy I’ve been working with on my computer screen.  That is to say, I read differently, and I react differently to what I’m reading.  The story I thought was going to need the most revision, for instance, turns out in hard copy to be one of my favorites.  And the one that’s been my favorite all along is going to need more revision than I’d thought.

This “bound” hard copy, all in all, is a very different manuscript from the electronic one I’ve been writing.

And this made me wonder—with the popularity of e-books, of Kindles and Nooks and whatever other e-readers are out there on the rise, will people read differently?  Do they already?  And if so, in what way(s) do they read differently, and will writers need to find a way to accommodate this new way of reading?  Should the hard copy and the e-copy of a book differ somehow, and if so, how?  Does the advent of the e-book create dilemmas not just in publishing, but also for writing itself?

Suddenly my dilemma about going with one-sided pages or double-sided pages pales in the face of the questions that arise as I read and annotate the draft.

I don’t have a Nook or a Kindle, but I’d be very interested in getting feedback from people who do.  Have you found your reading habits changing in any way with the e-reader?  Do you enjoy books more, or less, now that you’ve made the switch?  Do you still read hard-copy (that is, printed) books, or have you made a complete transition to electronic reading?  And most particularly, can you think of any books that you’ve read in both print and e-book form, and what differences, if any, did you find in your reading experiences?

I hope you’ll take a minute to share your thoughts.  I really want to know!