RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: December 2012

The lost art of writing longhand

I was talking with a friend today about my boundless love for Scrivener and how it’s totally changed the way I write. And she told me that she still prefers to keep all her notes on notecards, that putting pen to paper helps her internalize her thoughts that much better.

It made me realize another important discovery I’ve made over the course of working on this first draft, especially during the brainstorming stage, when I was doing brain dump after brain dump and trying to get to the heart of what exactly this story was that I was trying to tell. What ultimately led to my breakthrough? Writing it all out in longhand. Notebooks. Notecards. Scraps of paper.

I love Scrivener, don’t get me wrong. And everything I gushed about in this post is still 100% true. But I also agree with my friend that there’s nothing that beats the physical motion of putting pen to paper — of actually writing the words out — to make you absorb the thoughts, turn them over in your brain, let them sink into the cracks, and eventually, unlock those creative juices.

I haven’t yet experienced writer’s block with this story (hark, that’s the sound of me knocking on everything made of wood within a foot of me). I’m fully convinced that it’s because I’ve been taking the time to write things in longhand — whether it’s scribbling notes here and there to work out a plot dilemma, or actually writing out a scene. I find that writing out, actually writing it out — gives my brain the kind of “warm-up” it needs to get going and once it’s going, I’m in business. That’s when I go into Scrivener, transcribe everything I’ve written, and next thing I know, I’m finishing up a chapter I just began a few days prior.

It’s an extra step, no doubt about it. Sometimes, it gets cumbersome, and I can tell you that my wrist and hands aren’t happy with me for putting them through such strenuous workouts. But the benefits of following this method have been second to none. I’ve managed to crank out 60K words in 3 1/2 months (which is a very speedy pace for me) and if anything, I feel as though I’m on breakneck speed, rather than slowed down by this method.

More importantly, I feel as though I’m really internalizing my story in a way that I don’t think I would have if I weren’t going over and over it like this. First, by starting out the scene in longhand, then transcribing it into Scrivener, then finishing it. It works for me. And it’s making me fall in love with writing all over again.

 

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Time enough at last…

Any Twilight Zone fans in the house? They run marathons of it on the SyFy channel during major holidays, so I’m sure at some point, you’ve caught an episode or two. One of my all-time favorites is an episode with Burgess Meredith (aka The Penguin from the original Batman series with Adam West) called “Time Enough At Last.” In it, he plays a bookworm (you can see why this episode appealed to me right from the get-go ;)) who’s so obsessed with books that he spends all his free time — and sometimes steals time away from his everyday activities — to read. He survives a nuclear blast because he’s locked himself in a bank vault to read, and when he emerges to see the entire world is gone, he’s able to set aside his grief only when he realizes there’s now “time enough at last” to read.

Except this is the Twilight Zone and there’s got to be a twist, right? Well the cruel twist in this one is that just as he’s lined up all of the books he’s planning on reading, he knocks off his glasses and breaks them.

Now he can no longer see. Which means he can no longer read. Which means he’s got all the time in the world now, but can’t use it to do what he loves to do most.

Told you it was cruel.

I think about this episode from time to time because I can relate to Henry Bemis’s longing to find time in the day to do what he loves to do most. As a writer who’s also balancing a full-time job — one that requires a two hour round-trip commute — I struggle on a daily basis to scrape together enough time to work on my novel. The only way I’ve been able to make it work these days is to work on it when I get home from work (after I’ve had a chance to unwind from the exhaustion of the commute), which typically means I’m writing late into the night and getting to bed at 11:00 or midnight. There goes sleep. On the weekends, I have the luxury of more time, but not as much as I’d like, either. There are errands to squeeze in and family and friends to catch up with, and often the “extra time” I have to write really only means 3-4 hours, rather than the 6-8 I’d love.

My life is about to change in a major way, though. Next month, my employer will start offering employee shuttles from where I live, which means a solid, uninterrupted hour of writing twice a day — freeing up my evenings to relax, de-compress, and hey, maybe even have a fairly active social life again :). As I count down to “shuttle day,” I can’t help but think about “Time Enough At Last” and how Henry Bemis must have felt, knowing that he’d finally have the time to devote to his passion. Having two hours a day to devote to writing, at a time of the day when my brain is fresh and creative, fills me with such anticipation. But I have to admit, there’s also part of me that’s starting to wonder, “What will I do with the extra time and energy I’ll have?”

For the last three months, I’ve been pouring every ounce of energy and every free moment I have into this first draft, to keep on a chapter-a-week pace. I’ve been able to make it work, but I do find that it’s required some sacrifice on my part (mostly in the sleep department — will I ever get 8 hours again?). Now the prospect of getting to stick to my chapter-a-week pace (and possibly even accelerating that pace!) WHILE NOW GETTING EXTRA TIME is blowing my mind.

This weekend, I’m getting a bit of a dry run in this. I finished this week’s chapter early, so the 3-4 hours I would normally devote to writing today, I actually have free to do… well, whatever I wish. And all of a sudden, I find that I’m thrown for a little loop. I think I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have free time and — gasp! — realized that part of me actually likes having every second of my day accounted for.

I know that ultimately, this new routine will do wonders for my health (physical, mental, spiritual). It’ll restore balance again. And I can’t say enough how excited I am to finally have a solution to my commuting woes. But to my surprise, it will take some adjustment. Thankfully, it’ll be an adjustment I can get on board with.

 

This scene breaks my heart every time!

This scene breaks my heart every time!