Writing for the Page

When I decided to turn this essay into an artist’s book, I noticed that I started thinking more like a writer in the print age. If you haven’t read the essay in full, I’ll just tell you that it’s based on this idea that the ability to mass produce texts has fundamentally changed human thought. That said, it follows that I must always be thinking like a writer in the print age. This is true. I suppose what I mean to say is that I began to notice it more.

As I was editing the essay for the book, I started thinking more about my audience and making sure I explained things enough that people could understand without knowing anything about me or having prior knowledge of media history or economics. In fact, I threw out the initial essay that I’d written for a class and started again from scratch using a more accessible (read: less academic) voice. What I found even more interesting, however, was that I actuallly started writing to accomodate my means of production. I say in the essay that the printing press forced writers to structure their writing to fit the page, but I don’t quite mean it literally. In my case, I noticed this happening literally.

From the start, I’ve planned to letterpress print the text of the book using polymer plates. For those unfamiliar with this method of printing, what this means is that I’ll have to set type digitally, then send off a PDF of the text blocks to be turned into polymer plates. In order for the pages to look consistent, the blocks can be neither too long nor too short, and the full text itself has to be concise enough to fit within a standard 16-page pamphlet. I’ll also add that polymer plates are much more expensive than laser printing and the time required to set up each spread on a letterpress is also significantly longer. This gave me multiple incentives to keep the text as brief as possible.

All these factors churning in the back of my mind as I was writing, I began asking myself “Can I put a page break here? Is this paragraph too long? Perhaps I should try to wrap up this thought sooner to make typesetting easier.” Something I’ve always loved about print is its finality: you design a layout, the design gets printed, and everything stays exactly where you put it. With the web, especially with the number of different devices people are using to access it, this is not the case. What this means is that producing text for print requires unique considerations relating to the form of the page, especially when the means of production are not wholly digital. Perhaps this is less true when the writer himself is not designing and printing the pages, though it does become relevant when writers are given word limits when writing for publication. Whether or not the author considers it, however, writing for print is constrained by the limits of the page.