The Business of Writing

Simon Whaley's Resource For Writers

Spacebar Trampolining

A couple of days ago I shared a post on facebook that said:

“Dear friends older than 37: You don’t have to put two spaces after the period anymore. That was for the typewriter era. You’re free.”

It resulted in a raft of comments ranging from:

– “I never do.”

– “Why not?”

– “But I use at least three.”

The post was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying to those writers who were taught to type on a typewriter (including myself), that we should have broken this habit by now. I must admit, it took me many years. 

However, breaking a habit isn’t easy, so if you fall into this camp of spacebar trampolining, rather than try to break one habit, why not create another?

The Background

Why we were taught to hit the spacebar twice on a typewriter? It all comes down the spacing of the font. Those letters on the typewriter that hammered the ribbon, sandwiching the ink between the key and the paper, were all of a fixed width. That meant that a narrow letter, such as an l, took up as much space on the paper as a wider character, like a w. So words were s p r e a d out on the paper. In order to make sentences stand out more easily, thus making the typed document easier to read, typists were encouraged to insert two spaces at the end of each sentence, to separate the sentences further. 

Along Came Computers

With the advent of computers, fixed font sizes were no longer necessary. It now meant that the letter n only needed to take up half the space of a letter m. Letters could be placed closer together. Words were easier to read on the page. Sentences could be read with only one space separating them.

When you think about it, having two spaces between sentences creates a lot of space. As writers, we’re often told that text should have plenty of white space around it, but what that means is that we shouldn’t write large blocks of paragraphs. We should break up our text into shorter paragraphs, with sentences of variable length and, if it’s fiction, some dialogue, too. It does not mean the amount of space between our sentences.

When you consider how many sentences are in an 80,000 word novel, the number of spaces can be significant. If ever you write for some foreign or online markets where they go by a character count instead of a word count, remember that a space is a character, so you could be wasting characters, if your character count is tight.

What To Do?

I said at the beginning of this blog post that breaking a habit is difficult, so why not create a new one instead? If you habitually insert two spaces between sentences, continue to do it, but then add another step in your pre-submission checks. Search for, and take them out.

Why? Because some other poor bugger has to, and believe you me, as someone who edits other people’s work, I firmly believe it should be the writer!

Face facts. In the modern publishing world, two spaces are not needed. When words are slotted into various spaces within page layout templates, if they don’t fit, then an editor has to start cutting. Just like in the days of typewritten paper, modern computer spaces take up space. They need to be deleted. So go through your text and remove them before you submit.

Shortcuts

Depending upon the size of your text, it may not be a big job. If you’re writing articles or short stories then it’ll take a minute or two, if that. If you’re writing 250,000-word aga-sagas then you might need to set aside a morning or afternoon. But your editor will be grateful (assuming your editor doesn’t simply throw the whole lot back at you and ask you to do it anyway).

Use Find and Replace in whatever software you use. Search for:

[.] [space] [space]

(I’m using square brackets and spelt words to make this clearer. Go to your Find section and enter the fullstop/period character and then press your spacebar twice.)

In the Replace section press the full stop/period character and press the spacebar once. Then hit OK.

That should deal with all of your sentences that end in a full stop. You also need to repeat this exercise for every other end-of-sentence punctuations mark (exclamation mark, question mark).

Use the Pilcrow

Most word processors have the Pilcrow button. If you click on this it will show all the non-printable characters, such as tabs, carriage returns and spaces. (Alternatively you may have the option to ‘View Non-Printing Characters’ from a menubar option.)

It’s worth switching this on because, when it comes to spacebar trampolining, some writers hit the spacebar three, four, or even five times at the end of some sentences. (Why?) So you need to repeat the exercise above for [.] and then [space] [space] for however many spaces you’ve added to your text.

Make this your new habit prior to submissions and editors will appreciate it. Some may even like you for it. (Removing spaces from a document when you’re on a deadline is not the most efficient use of time.)

And the next time you hear your fingers trampolining on the spacebar, just stop and think what you’re doing. However many extra spaces you put in will need to be taken out at some point.

Good luck.

 

6 Comments

  1. I still call the Pilcrow (thank you; learned a new word) the ‘reveal codes’ key – I imagine this is a throwback to … WordPerfect 5.1 or something!

  2. I confess I just press the spacebar twice (in the find box) and once in the replace box, with no other punctuation and it will do the lot – after whichever combination (full stop, comma etc) will be sorted. Although you do have to be sure you have pressed the right number of times (as you can’t ‘see’ what you have typed!)…and clear the search box every time you do it so that this is still the case.
    P.S. I *am* 37 (for a wee bit longer!). I suggested on Twitter I could thus dub myself ‘the Last of the Double Spacers’…

    • Yes, simply searching for double spaces will work, but if you have any other double spaces elsewhere it can cause problems. (Some writers indent with spaces rather than using the auto-indent in the paragraph settings – that in itself may be another blog posting!) Good tips about clearing the search box though!

      • Ah, yes, I suppose in that case it would matter. I was trying to think of an instance where this would be used. I tend to use ‘tab’ to indent paragraphs, and Word then carries on doing this automatically when I start a new paragraph.

  3. I do use the Pilcrow button, or the backward p as I usually call it.

    It’s really helpful when you can ‘see’ there’s something out of place in the text but can’t easily pick it out to correct it.

What are your thoughts?

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