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

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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!