On Typewriters

Every writer knows how he or she writes best, and he has discovered their method through trial and error (or maybe the first attempt worked and he never strayed away from it). In this series we’re going to look at some different physical forms of writing and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one. The three criteria I’ll be looking at are: Location (how free are you to write where you want to write?), Duration (can you write as long as you want, or are there physical limitations?), and Completion (once finished with the first draft, how hard is it to move on to draft two?)

You can follow these links to get to the different articles:

Typewriter

A typewriter is one of the classic instruments for writing. Most writers can imagine a person hunched over a typewriter, banging out the words to a great novel one letter at a time. The simple clack-clack-clack-ching of a typewriter is a beautiful sound to a writer. Unfortunately, the romance of a typewriter is really all that keeps these machines going as a tool for writing.

LOCATION: Stationary… mostly.

Typewriters are heavy. It doesn’t even matter what kind we’re discussing, even the “portable” typewriters are far heavier than a laptop. If the weight doesn’t bug you then the machines can be fairly portable. If you decide to travel with your typewriter you’ll find that you’re limited by the noise that the machine creates (unless you don’t care all about disturbing others).

Typewriters are great stationary machines, especially if you’re able to get your hands on a classic style. Many of them are beautiful pieces of equipment (my personal favorite is the Underwood typewriters from the 1950’s). That being said, they will take up a good chunk of space and aren’t good for anything other than writing (and addressing envelopes, for that they’re better than computers in my opinion).

FINAL: Con.

DURATION: Good, not great.

Typewriters give a vast improvement to duration over handwriting, though they still fall short of using a computer. The keys on a typewriter are heavier than those on a computer keyboard, so you’re going to start feeling some physical fatigue after an hour or two, and since the keys are higher you run a higher risk of carpel tunnel injuries. Just make sure that you set your work-station up properly, with the top of the typewriter level with your relaxed arms. The biggest ergonomic issue with typewriters is reaching or raising your arms to reach the keys.

Other than physical fatigue, typewriters will frustrate you to varying degrees. When you first start out be prepared to get frustrated A LOT. If you type too quickly on many models of typewriter the levers will stick together. If you don’t pay attention you may forget to return the carriage, meaning that you’ll lose anything that you type and may even damage the typewriter’s carriage. Make sure that you have all the supplies you’ll need before starting as well: extra ink ribbons (and correction ribbons if your typewriter supports them), a pencil or pen to make manual corrections as you write, extra paper, and a tray or folder to place finished pages into.

FINAL: Draw…

COMPLETION: Complete Transcription…

In a lot of ways the completion of a manuscript by typewriter leads to the same issues as a handwritten manuscript: you’re going to have to completely transcribe the document. The biggest benefit over handwritten manuscripts is that the document will be infinitely more legible (assuming you have a typewriter that’s in decent condition).

Since it’s the same as transcribing a handwritten document I’m not going to repeat all the tips for editing as you transcribe. If you’re interested you can find that info in the post “On Pen and Paper.”

FINAL: Draw…

SUMMARY

A typewriter is most likely going to be a stationary writing platform for you due to the size and weight of the machines. You’ll need to transcribe everything you type in order to edit, but the legibility of the original will be substantially better than a handwritten document (though not as good as a document printed from a computer). While pretty machines, they are bulky and require specific knowledge and tools in order to keep them running smoothly.

Concerning electronic typewriters: I’ve used them, and I hate them. There are some merits to them, mainly that many of the keyboards have softer touch keys and a display where you type a line digitally before printing it. Personally, if I’m going to type to a digital display I may as well use a computer so that I don’t have to transcribe later. Electronic typewriters limit your mobility even more due to the necessity of an outlet.

CONCLUSION

If you’re a romantic like me the typewriter holds a special place in your heart. If you’re going to use one, make sure that you have some other options on hand as well for the times when your typewriter either refuses to work or works so poorly that you give up in frustration. The biggest benefit of a typewriter is the sound of letters appearing on the page (and even this will become an annoyance to many people).

Pen & Paper:

3 star rating

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On Pen and Paper

Every writer knows how he or she writes best, and he has discovered their method through trial and error (or maybe the first attempt worked and he never strayed away from it). In this series we’re going to look at some different physical forms of writing and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one. The three criteria I’ll be looking at are: Location (how free are you to write where you want to write?), Duration (can you write as long as you want, or are there physical limitations?), and Completion (once finished with the first draft, how hard is it to move on to draft two?)

You can follow these links to get to the different articles:

Pen & Paper

DSC01902I’m definitely biased towards this method. I’m currently working on a novel using pen and paper, which simply means that it works for me. I’ve been at it for about a month now, and I have about 30 pages completed (I just started a new job, so the writing has kind of fallen off a bit). I’ve written quite a bit of material with pen and paper, so I feel confident telling you that it’s an extremely mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks, so let’s just jump right in.

LOCATION: Go Anywhere!

Seriously, anywhere. I have yet to find a place where I can’t pull my journal and pen out and get writing. No waiting for a computer to start or load a document, just open to your bookmark (or the first blank page) and write.

This isn’t to say that all places are equal for pen and paper. A flat surface definitely improves speed and clarity of handwriting (which will be important later, but we’ll get to that point soon). Trying to balance a journal on your lap while writing feverishly can be a difficult challenge. Getting a journal with a stiff cover will help negate this issue. Finding a flat surface usually isn’t too hard: head to any coffee shop, a library, the break room at work, set up a TV tray, lay on the floor… the options are endless.

FINAL: PRO!

DURATION: Fatigue Immanent…

This is probably the singular biggest drawback to writing with pen and paper. Your hand is going to hurt. A lot. Depending on how long It’s been since you’ve written by hand you may only be able to write for a couple minutes before the pain sets in. The more you write by hand, however, the stronger your hand will get and the longer you can go.

Depending on your writing style short spurts of writing may not be a bad thing. I’ve known people who could only write good material for about 15 minutes before pouring forth junk. For them anything written after the 15 minute mark was usually re-written or simply trashed. If that describes you, pen and paper may be a benefit as the fatigue will keep you to short spurts of writing instead of a longer period.

The biggest plus to duration with pen and paper compared to computers is that you can continue as long as you want regardless of your location, no need to worry about your remaining battery power or needing to find an outlet.

FINAL: DRAW…

COMPLETION: Complete Transcription…

This is by far the biggest drawback of pen and paper. When you’ve completed your story you’ll be forced to completely transcribe the work in order to edit and finalize for submission/self-publication. This is where the clarity of your handwriting will matter a lot. If you have poor or outright terrible handwriting then transcribing your work will be very difficult, possibly forcing you to re-write large segments of the work from memory. Needless to say: this sucks!

Now, just to play devil’s advocate (and because this is a plus for me), if you’re anything like me you absolutely hate editing. HATE it! If that’s the case, the transcription process will be a benefit. By its very nature you’re going to be forced to revisit your entire work, so you’ll be able to spot continuity errors, plot holes, glaring spelling mistakes, and other such things with ease. The important thing is to not get caught up on fixing them all as you transcribe, just figure out a way to mark the sections that need help as you do. I use Microsoft Word for transcription, so adding a comment to a section with my thoughts on it are a great way to easily return to it. If you’re using a more basic program, try changing the font to something drastically different, change the color, or highlight the section; do anything that will make it jump out at you as you go through the document.

FINAL: DRAW…

SUMMARY

Pen and paper will give you the ability to write anywhere, any time. You’ll have to be able to deal with your own handwriting, so if you can’t read what you write don’t even bother (or practice that handwriting, it’s not too hard to change it). Depending on your editing process pen and paper is either going to be a major positive or a major negative.

Unfortunately there is no best option for writing, it’s all about what works best for you.

CONCLUSION

If you have never tried writing with pen and paper, I’d suggest giving it a try. If nothing else it can be a great way to work through troubling sections of your story. There is little more satisfying that crumbling up a page that is frustrating you, throwing it across the room, and starting fresh. Whether you use it for your entire first draft or for small segments, pen and paper will always be a great tool for you as a writer.

Pen & Paper:

4 star rating

The Process of Writing

The first thing that you need to know about how to write is this: there is no right way. The good news about that is that it means that there’s also no wrong way to write. If words appear on paper (or a screen), you have written. Good job!

Now, if you want to write well, you’ll only need two things: practice and talent.pen-and-paper

  • Anyone can practice writing, all you need to do is sit and write, and read as much as you can in the genre you wish to write.
  • A bit of talent required, however. There are “writers” who will never write anything worth reading, there are even those who will never write anything readable. It’s just a fact of life.

It is possible for anyone to become a passingly good writer, even if you have no talent. You may never be a beautiful wordsmith or a poet who weaves tapestries with words, but you can easily become someone who is capable of writing a coherent story, which is all that’s needed to sell in this world. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Twilight series: a series of books that contain fantastic stories but terrible writing, and yet the series became a world-wide phenomenon. The reason is because the stories are accessible. You can have the best story in the world, but if the reader’s can’t relate to something it will never sell.

I know that may sound like a simplified version of the facts, but it’s the truth, plain and simple.

What I can share is my own experience with writing and the way that I do things. I’m going to break it into three parts: get a story, figure out how to write it, write it.

 

Get a story.

Getting a story is simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of writing. The first thing that needs to be made clear is this: getting a story does not mean that you need to develop the entire story-line from beginning to end. All stories, at least the great ones, take on a life of their own during the writing process. Steven King, one of the most popular authors of our time, admits in his forward in many of his Dark Tower novels that he didn’t create the story as much as facilitate the story. He claims that it was as if something else was telling the story and here merely let it flow through him.

I’m not saying that there is some mystical force that tells us stories for us to spread to the world. However, the mind is a very complex machine that surpasses scientific understanding in many ways. If an idea occurs to you, run with it. Try some stream-of-consciousness writing, you may develop a good beginning, middle, or end to a story built around (or even beside) the original idea. The novel that I’m currently working on all started with a simple idea: “What would I do if my fiance died?” I fictionalized the setting and the characters, but kept the core of my response the same. That got the first three pages down. After that I’ve let the story run while I walk along behind and piece together the path as best I can.

Whatever you do, I urge you not to use a detailed outline. They can be helpful, but too much planned detail will stifle and kill a story faster than anything in the world. I know plenty of people who use them, and use them successfully, but they have discovered one key point that goes against everything you learned in school: do not outline every point of the story.

Let’s say you want a character to start off in England and go through Traumatic Event A, then travel to Spain to become a bullfighter while working through his problems, only to find peace in the end. Great, that could be a great story. But do not sit and write down his entire life in Spain in your outline, including where he likes to eat or what theater he goes to. If you need to do research on some of those things, do it as you go. If you start off with an outline that details every single step of the journey, your writing will read like a road map. Now, if you have an outline that simply says “Man’s dad dies, Man goes to Spain, Man struggles, Man becomes bull fighter, Man learns life lesson, Man finds peace/love/happiness” you have the opportunity to surprise yourself with what you use to fill in those blanks.

As far as outlines go, they can be a nice aid, but don’t let them stifle you. If you have one and you feel like your story is getting stale, tear the outline into small pieces, take a break from the story for a couple days, then continue writing using nothing but your imagination to guide you. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the outcome.

 

Figure out how it wants to be written.

This step may seem kind of odd, but I’m someone who thinks that every story wants to be written in it’s own way. I’m speaking strictly of mechanics here, not style or tense or person or any of that. Mechanics. Word processor, special word processor, typewriter, note-cards, journal, legal pad, etc. Many authors have one form of writing that works best for them. I’m in a weird place in my life right now with a lot of unknowns. I’m starting a new job in a week, getting married in less than 6 months, (hopefully) moving into a new place with my fiance in 6 months, and constantly travelling around the area. That may explain why the way I write changes from story to story. Grand Eagle, the novella that is currently being edited, was written completely in Microsoft Word. The novel that I am currently working on is being written with a pen in a journal.

All that really just to say this: there is no one way to write. Do yourself a favor and experiment, experiment a lot. Don’t just use a word processor just because someone else said that’s how you’re supposed to write. Take your time, try using everything that you can get your hands on. I’ll be writing a series of posts here detailing the pros and cons of each type if writing that I’ve experimented with myself, so check back and read through those if you’re interested, perhaps it will give you a place to start.

 

Write it.

The title says it all. Once you’ve figured out where to start with your story and you’ve determined how you want to write it, write it! The biggest tip that I can give you here is that there is, again, no right way to write. If you want to start in the middle and work both ways at once, go ahead. If you want to write linearly from beginning to end (or end to beginning), go for it. There is no one way to get the job done.

A very important part of writing is to ensure that you do not spend every waking moment writing. There are some writers for whom that is their forte, but they are the minority. Set up a specific time of the day when you are going to write and stick to the schedule. If you get an idea in the middle of the day, jot a couple of notes or a section of story on a napkin or an email to yourself and save it for your next scheduled writing time. During your off times, make sure to do something that keeps your creative juices flowing. Go to the mall and people watch, take in a movie, read a book, play a game, spend time with people you like. All of these things will help when you’re writing, I promise.

 

That’s it, a crash course in the process of writing. Keep in mind that all of these things are how I personally go about the art of writing, and I do not mean any of them to be taken as indisputable facts. What works for me could be horrible for others. Take your time and explore the world of writing.

The most important thing to keep in mind is the why of being a writer. Do not become a writer for the money, there are easier, more consistent ways to get money. Do not become a writer for the fame, very few writers achieve broad fame. Do not become a writer because you want to write the next great novel, you will get discouraged too easily. Become a writer for one reason and one reason only: because you must. Because stories run through you and you are hopeless to do anything but share them. If you absolutely need to write, just cannot help it, then welcome to the club.

If you have other tips for writers or a response to any of the ideas I’ve put forth here, please put them in the comments. I’d love to hear how you write!

Current Projects

So… progress…

I am currently working on two major projects in the world of fiction:

  1. A novella entitled “Grand Eagle – Lies” that may or may no become a trilogy of novellas that would, in the end, be the length of a single novel.
  2. A novel (potentially) that is currently untitled but that I am truly enjoying. It’s a story of loss, falling from grace, and redemption.

Currently the most progress is being made on the untitled novel, mainly because the muse keeps blowing wind into that sail. The novella is completed, editing is all that’s left. To be honest, editing is a wall that my muse simply refuses to climb on most days. I’m lucky if I get one good day of editing in every month, so it’s going slow.

Once “Grand Eagle” is finished I’ll be self-publishing that one. I’ve even got the cover already completed:

Cover image for "Grand Eagle"

It will be published with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), the same as my first publication. For those that don’t know, that first publication was a collection of four short stories entitled “Love and Darkness: A Collection of Short Stories.” You can find that one on Amazon for 99 cents. If you’re interested you can buy the eBook here.

That pretty much brings us up to date on the current projects, I’ll post more detailed information about the separate works as progress is made. Other than that I’m working on a couple freelance projects (and looking for more, so if you’re looking for a writer, let me know! More information here), starting a new day-job in just over a week, and spending as much time as possible with my fiance in an effort to keep my sanity this holiday season.

On Writing as a Christian

Pen and CrossThere are a plethora of good Christian authors in the world today, even a few good Christian fiction writers. There are even more wonderful secular authors, especially when it comes to the domain of fictional content.

The world of fiction writing is one of the few places that is truly equal-opportunity and nearly free of the constraints our world has placed on writers. That being said, we writers are not completely beyond the chains of all those constraints, especially not those of us without an established name. It would be difficult for a new author to make a name for his- or herself by writing a book that does not follow the guidelines of the massive “PC” (political correctness) movement, or one that outright condemns any particular group. It’s sad that the world of writing has been tempered in this way, but there is still room to reveal a genuine message through fiction, even one that many readers would balk at. The argument “if it offends you, you don’t have to read it” comes to mind, though that argument doesn’t hold the weight it once did. Instead, we temper our works with long arguments in the forward or after, explaining to our readers that what they are about to read (or have just read) is a work of fiction, born from the writer’s mind, based on nothing more than the writer’s experience and perception of reality.

With all that being said, there is room for a fiction writer to reveal truth in the work he or she creates. There’s even room to reveal the Truth. The thing we need to keep in mind is that not everyone will accept, or even acknowledge, any truth that we reveal. Which brings me to the main point of this post. It’s three-parts: one for those readers who do not hold to Christian beliefs, one for those readers who do, and one for Christian writers. Read what you wish, disregard the rest…

For Non-Christian Readers
My first bit of advice to you is this: don’t be deterred if an author or a book is labelled “Christian.” Some really great stories are written by Christian authors (if you doubt me, keep in mind that C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia series, also wrote some of the best Christian theological works of his day). Even if you don’t believe in the message of the Bible, you have to admit that it has some of the greatest stories ever within its pages…

All I’m saying is this: don’t judge a book by its cover (or its author bio). You’ll be in for some real treats, and perhaps you’ll even learn something about yourself, the world, or the universe along the way.

For Christian Readers
Just as I asked Non-Christian readers to not shy away from Christian authors and books, I now urge you to not refrain from reading books just because the author is not a Christian or the subject matter is of a secular nature. You’ll miss out on some amazing adventures, some classic characters, and the opportunity to learn more about the world in which God has placed you. How will you ever be able to speak to someone, let alone evangelize, if you do not have an understanding of the world in which they live?

Don’t be too quick to judge, and don’t get stuck inside your comfort zone. Branch out, read something dangerous, something different. I’m not saying abandon all reason and support drivel like “romance” novels or Fifty Shades of Grey. There are places where we Christians do need to draw a line. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a Stephen King novel or a piece of classic literature just because it wasn’t written by a devout Christian.

For Christian Writers
This is something that I was hung up on for the longest time, but through prayer and thought I’ve finally come to an answer, and on the off-chance that you’re struggling with the same thing I figured I would share my enlightenment:

Being a Christian writer does not mean you can only write Christian works.

I know it sounds simple, but this idea held me back from writing for weeks. You don’t need to load your latest fictional work with tons of gospel messages or a full exploration of the Truth of God’s word. You don’t even strictly need to mention it. Just write what comes to you, write what you love. That’s not to say never include a good moral example or a message of hope, but don’t be bogged down by it.

Again I’ll point to C. S. Lewis, just because he is a wonderful example of what I’m saying: The Chronicles of Narnia has some obvious references to the story of Jesus, but at no point does C. S. Lewis force the reader to accept that view or that information. Instead he wrote a fantastic series of fictional novels that will live on for years to come, always bearing that subtle arrow that points towards Truth.

The worst thing that we can do as Christians is tie our own views to the gospel. A person does not need to accept my views of the world or my interpretation of the Bible in order to receive salvation, and thank God for that! The only message we need to spread is one of love and forgiveness, not condemnation and hate. So write your story, whatever it is, and do whatever you can to gain a following and publish it. If you ever get the chance to speak bluntly with your readers, ask them if they know Christ. Writing fiction can be a great way to open up your own mission field that spans the globe.

Final Thoughts
If you only read a single section here, that’s fine. If you read them all, great! If you have any questions about any of these points, or just feel like discussing then, feel free to email me or post in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A quick note: While I will never be ashamed to bring up my faith in this blog, I do want to assure you that not every post will be as theological as this one. This blog is primarily about writing, and I plan to keep the focus there. This post kind of exploded into my mind and demanded to be shared, and when a writer begins to deny his muse he’s asking for trouble…