Actual, Physical Writing

Last week I was at a homeschool conference for a couple of days. One of the days, there weren't any workshops I wanted to attend, but I still had to be there with my kids. That meant either sitting in a classroom I didn't want to be in, or waiting around for a few hours.

I chose the latter, because I'm good at waiting (I always bring 2 or 3 things to do on plane trips to the States, for example). In this case, I decided to take Tobias Buckell's advice and write on paper. I took out my old moleskine, given to me by a friend like 4 years ago. I've done lots of brainstorming and pseudo-outlining in the notebook before, but never actual writing. That is, I've never written anything in the notebook that I transferred directly to my manuscript. Tobias followed his own advice and shared his experience, so I thought I might as well do the same.

The thing I liked least is no surprise: it's slow. I can type almost as fast as I can think (or at least as fast I can decide what to say). Writing by hand bugs me because by the time I write a few words, I'm thinking 3 or 4 sentences ahead, and I forget how I was going to finish the first sentence.

I also didn't like being away from my notes (my timelines, my outlines, my character bibles, my maps...). I'm a planner, which means I have faith that my outlines are pretty decent to start with - there's a reason I plan. As I spent time writing without my notes, I felt like I was getting farther and farther off my plan.

There was one really good thing about it: it forced me to keep going. There was no e-mail to distract me, no World Doc to write sudden world-building thoughts in, no dictionary or thesaurus to ache over word choice. No notes meant I didn't spend time hunting down details, so when the protagonist referenced something that happened "4 years ago," I had to write "X years ago" and move on.

One of the things that forced me to keep going surprised me: there was no room to edit. Often when I get stuck on something (even if only for a few minutes), I end up looking back and revising. But writing single-spaced in the notebook, there was only a small amount of room to edit. Once I'd changed a word once or twice, there was no more room to change it, and I was forced to leave it and move on.

In the end, I wrote 1,000 words in 1-2 hours. That's about the same speed as my normal rate (although I still had to retype the whole thing once I got home). I'd definitely do it again, if given the opportunity, but I think I'd have to study my notes ahead of time to make sure I stayed on track.

Maybe the next time I fly to the States, I'll bring my notebook instead of my laptop. It's easier to carry around and setup anyway (especially with 2-year-olds in the next seat).


Anonymous said...

So it's as almost if technology is effecting your writing in a negitive way.

Natalie Whipple said...

I like writing long hand from time to time. It's a good exercise. For me it can open up new paths I didn't think of, since it takes a little longer.

And I usually know I'll edit while changing it over, so I just keep moving. It really does help eliminate distractions.

MattyDub said...

Neal Stephenson wrote all of the Baroque Cycle (~2730 pages) in longhand with a fountain pen. He liked it so much he wrote Anathem (~960 pages)in longhand. He said that because it was slower, it "buffered" his output, allowing him more time to edit while the words were still in his head. That way, the quality of words that were on the page were higher than they would have been if he'd been typing, so less revision was necessary. Just thought you'd like a fun factoid about my favorite living author.

Elle Scott said...

Author Gary Schmidt says that the very first thing he tells his writing students is to NOT write on a computer. I'm not sure that I could do it. I like Internet access so that I can fact check or look at a map or whatever.

Tara Maya said...

I always keep a notebook around, because I like to doodle pictures next to my notes. I love my computer too. I end up with my notebook open on my desk in front of my computer, using both.

The notebook lacks two features I could never do without -- cut and paste (in my notebook, achieved by circling the text and drawing an arrow) and spell check.

My dad used to tell me I could never be a writer because I couldn't spell. Spell check proved him wrong. Bwahahaha!