The power of the pen

Inspired by my mention of my car being my office I thought I’d do a little post on my writing habits.

When I first started writing I did everything straight into the word processor. I’ve not got too bad a typing speed and my spelling is pretty good, and any mistakes get picked up nicely long the way . . . or do they?

I would read back what I’d written and think ‘this is insipid, dull’. It didn’t sound quite right. So I’d keep writing, that’s what they tell you to do, isn’t it? Just plough on and on, don’t stop. Eventually you’ll get something worthy of your expectation. And as I wrote I thought ‘wow this is really getting somewhere, I’m improving’. But again, I’d read it back after my self-praise had cooled down and realise it really wasn’t that good. I’d edit, change things. Sometimes I would get something that resonated, but not always.

I went on and on like this, banging my head against a brick wall. I took my netbook to bed, the sofa, outdoors, the kitchen table. Somewhere where the muse would find me and tell me exactly what I had to do.

No doubt I did improve somewhere along the line, because I was practicing every day. And we all know that doing something continuously is the only way to improve.

One day I drove out with the kids to meet my Mum for lunch and I got there early. The kids had fallen asleep and I realised I had an hour.  Anyone who has little kids will tell you that time to yourself is as rare as hens teeth, so what could I do with an hour to myself in my car?

I could write!

I was almost bouncing for joy, an entire hour of writing without disturbance. But I didn’t have my netbook. No matter. I looked in my bag and found a pen, tipped out the contents looking for paper; receipts, wrappers – anything. The scene was already forming in my head, I had to get it out before it evaporated. I couldn’t find anything. So I drove into a petrol station to buy a notepad. Nothing. I begged the staff for a few sheets of scrap paper, they looked at me a little strangely but could find no reason not to give me any.

Then I wrote. For the first time since . . . school probably, I wrote with paper and pen. My handwriting is reserved for shopping lists and envelopes, everything gets typed now. This was extraordinary. I wrote in tiny letters, my shorthand coming back to me and blending with my writing to form a sort of hybrid language. I filled every sheet on both sides and was panicked when I ran out of space. Then I saw my hour was up. We went to meet my Mum and I was itching to get to my computer and type it all up.

Then I realised I wasn’t just typing up, I was editing. The time spent between writing it and coming back to it had given me enough distance to spot the errors when I read it back. I stopped typing and just went over the thing with a pen, remembering this from school. Yes, rough draft, second draft, final draft. That’s what we used to do. That wasn’t scary, I could do this.

After this revelation I bought a big project book with dividers and it soon filled up. I bought little notepads and put them on my bedside, in my handbag, the glovebox, the kitchen – anywhere I might need them. So now it’s not just my car that’s the office, it’s wherever I have paper and pen. I’ve found ten minutes of scribbling to be more productive than hours of glaring at the screen at times. The benefits of paper and pen are multiple:

  • You don’t need electricity.
  • You can do it anywhere.
  • Paper and pen are easy to find (one time while out walking my youngest to sleep my pen dried up and I nearly cried. I resorted to typing into my ipod, but it ran out of battery. From now on I always carry two pens, or better still, pen and pencil).
  • There is nothing to boot up – it is always ready, even at 3 a.m. when you have an epiphany.
  • You can see the ‘screen’ easily in bright sunlight.
  • Paper won’t crash and lose everything.
  • You edit as you go, your writing improves.
  • You get enormous satisfaction turning page after page of crackling paper in a filled-up book.
I’m not saying writing up longhand works for everyone, many people prefer to type and see the work on the screen. This blog post, for example, has been typed straight in, but when I’m working on the books it’s my preferred method to find the story and hear the characters voices. It’s whatever works best for you I suppose. It never occurred to me to try writing longhand, I considered it a backward step, but in truth it made me feel comfortable and that is the best state of mind in which to create.
What about you, what have you found is the best way to find the story?

Posted on September 14, 2011, in Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I must say that I prefer typing my stories straight onto my computer but I do have a notebook and pencil next to my bed and it has definitely come in handy at 4 o’clock in the morning when my muse decides to pay a visit!

    As for actual writing – I prefer to get the story down. As I type, I do sometimes realise I’ve created little plot holes here and there, but I’d rather get the overall story complete so I can start working on it.

    The way I see it –

    first/rough draft – meh
    second draft – average
    third draft – getting there
    fourth draft – pretty good actually
    fifth draft – [insert writer who inspires you] would be proud!

    (I really need to get that onto a t-shirt!) 😀

  2. a tshirt, a fridge magnet, a mug . . . I want one!

  3. Oh don’t.. you’ll give me ideas! lol

  4. Oh, and thanks for adding me to your Blogroll. 🙂 (oops, double-post. Sorry!)

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