Posted in writing

The Writing Diaries pt. 6 : A Handwritten Letter

When was the last time you sat down with a pen or a pencil, and just wrote? Allowing the words to guide you across the page, instead of a rigid outline? It could be in the form of a letter, a journal entry, or anything in between. If you’re a writer, then it might not be so long ago. But in the age of modern convenience, we likely don’t “write”, by hand as our forefathers once did. I know that I have given in to the kings of convenience, despite my fondness for simple, pen and paper. Technology has managed to sneak its way into nearly all forms of writing, and even reading for that matter. For today’s post, I want to consider the different ways that writing by hand, or through a computer might affect the writing process.

In the early stages of the story process I always opt for a pen and a notebook, to capture those first few details and snippets, as they unfold inside my head. I’ll use sticky notes to jot down random names or topics needing more research. I might even write pages and pages of backstory that will likely never make it into the final work. But when I feel ready, I leave the paper behind and open up a “Pages” document on my computer, and let the real story begin. It’s exciting to start filling the empty space with words, and quotation marks, and chapter titles. To me, that’s when the real story begins and it starts to look and feel like a proper book.

Occasionally though, as time goes by and the story begins edging towards its climax, I can feel discouragement set in and the flow of writing can come to a halt. I become frustrated and feel that my efforts no longer look or feel like a “proper” book. It might start to feel like a jumbled mess, and I can experience great disappointment. It feels like all the hours and days poured into the project have resulted in nothing more than a wilted bloom, barely clinging to life, instead of the vibrant flower I had first envisioned.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself this question: “Does writing the first draft on a computer add more pressure to my writing process?”

On one hand, I can say that writing the first draft in a word document is genius. It’s easy to pound scores of words out by the minute, it’s easier to make changes, easier to recognize mistakes, and most of all, it’s easier to read computerized fonts than the scribbled chicken-scratch on paper. You can send a snippet to a friend for feedback, or even delete an entire section if you so choose. But could that be where the trouble lies? On a computer, nothing is permanent, and anything can be altered or changed at any given moment. Instead of plowing ahead with the story, it might be tempting to work backwards, and edit as you go. Perhaps a bit of permanence is helpful, or dare I say, even needed.

I’m reading through a book right now about the “writer’s life“. In it, the author shares many writing exercises to practice. One of them is to sit down and write three pages of longhand everyday on any topic you choose. She calls it “morning pages”, but it can be done at any time of the day. The idea is to cultivate a habit, and commitment to writing each day. And to show yourself that you can indeed write anywhere, anytime, anyhow. It doesn’t matter how messy or mixed up your words come out. The exercise is meant to allow your words to flow freely, and uninterrupted.

In the past, I have tried many times to write the first draft by hand, but I inevitably give up after only a few pages. Quick and convenient, always seems to trump slow and steady. I know that many authors write their first draft entirely by hand, and that has always astounded me. Writing by hand takes a lot of time, and to me, the story feels closer to being done when I can see it all typed out on a screen, (even if it’s very far from actually being done).

Recently, I’ve decided to try something different, an experiment if you will. For starters, I’ve decided to write a short story–something I haven’t done for quite a while. I’ve felt that my writing habits needed some livening up, so why not turn my usual routine on its head? I pulled out a new notebook, filled up my fountain pen with ink, and simply began writing. I’m not worrying too much about when I should write, or even if I feel like I’m in the right mindset to write–I’m simply writing. So far it’s been fun, really fun. Granted, I’ve had to stop myself at times, from the “not good enough”, thoughts that try to interrupt my progress, but for now, I’m trying to tell that part of my brain to stay quiet.

I’ve found that writing by hand takes away much of the pressure I usually feel when writing. And I’m learning to write without the imaginary critic hanging over my shoulder, and to simply write to tell the story that wants to be told. And that notion, for me, had gotten misplaced somewhere along the way. Until I complete my little experiment, I may not know if my writing habits will forever be changed, but for now, I’m enjoying the process and I think I may be converted. (Which means I’m going to need some more notebooks.)

What about you? Do you like to write on a computer, or are you more old-fashioned, preferring the pen and paper method? Tell me your thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

Lady S