Monday, November 9, 2009

My Writing Process

I feel like a dinosaur. I'm still one of those that write my novels using a pen and paper. I've tried to type into the computer directly, but my internal editor kicks in, and I tend to censor myself almost immediately. I feel as if I have to make it perfect right away.

I know, I could probably train myself not to do that, but my process is working for me, so why change.

There are a number of advantages to writing this way, for instance I can write anywhere, literally, and I have. Waiting in the doctor's office, waiting for an oil change, on an airplane with the seat in front of me almost touching the tip of my nose, and I don't have to worry whether my battery is charged or not.


For me, it starts with the right pen. I have to use a fine point rollerball. The one that I use is the Pilot Dr. Grip. I have tried using other types and brands, but this one works so well I don't have to think about it.

I like the fact the way that the ink flows freely across the page, and the contrast level that the gel ink provides. I used to use a pencil, but I found that the contrast didn't always work in all kinds of light levels.

Next is the notebook. At first I used to use composition books because the paper is lined, they are cheap, and again very portable. However what I found is that they are hard to type from. They act like a book, in that they try to self close, so I had to always use a paperweight to keep them open.

I switched over to a spiral bound notebook so that I can lay it flat while I type in the text.

I write the text on the right side only. I just let the words flow out. I try to describe the scene that I see in my mind, from a setting point of view, and what the characters say to one another.

If I decide the scene is going the wrong way, I simply scribble out what I've written, or if I think I might want to bring it back later, I draw a line through it.

In between lines, I will add corrections, or more words, and to the right if there is enough room I may add more dialog, description, etc.

The left side is reserved for notes, points to emphasize later, other scenes, and anything that I may need to jog my memory later. I think this goes a long way to obviate my need for an outline.

Sometimes I may decide that I need a lot more text than there is room available on the right. For instance I may have to insert a part of a scene that I hadn't thought of before or embellish more details of what's already been written . In that case I draw lines where the extra text is supposed to go, and write it on the left side.

After I get the text written, I type it all in. For me this is the most difficult part. It's the part that I enjoy the least. I could probably hire someone to do this, but here's the deal, I do a lot of my first pass edits when I type it in. I don't just type in what I've written, I try to make sure that by the time I've typed it in, it is a pretty darn good first draft.

When I sit down to a writing session, I start by re-reading the last few pages so that I can get into the flow of the story. While going through I find and fix things, so that when I type it in, it's close to what I want, but still maybe not perfect yet.

After I get the entire manuscript typed in, I print out a copy, get out my red pen, and start editing. I make all the changes, and go through it a second time. Then, I put the manuscript on the shelf for at least three months. I will go through it a couple more times after that, and it's finally ready to build a query letter, and start the selling process.

So did I convince any of you to go back to writing with a pen and paper? Yeah, didn't think so.

But, how does my process compare to yours?

9 comments:

  1. Once upon a time, I was a pen and paper kind of guy. Now, computer for the most part, but I often jot down notes with pen and paper.

    Have you heard of LiveScribe? It's an actual pen w/special notebooks, and you can record comments as you go as well. Then, everything transfers to the computer and you have all your written work in a file, as well as the voice comments you might have made during the process. It's really neat.

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  2. How funny you should post this, I just finished reading an article on the WSJ (redirected via Nathan Bransford) about how different writers write. Good article! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703740004574513463106012106.html?mod=djemLifeStyleh

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  3. I admire writers who write the old-fashioned way. I've tried and simply can't do it. I tend to write too fast which makes my handwriting impossible to decipher at a later date.

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  4. my hand starts to cramp up after writing a simple thank you note to my grandma -- i can't even imagine writing an entire novel that way.

    but, no right or wrongs on this journey. whatever works, right?

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  5. I can not write out anything by hand nowadays.

    In those few cases that I am left with no alternative, I do so in a disorderly and chaotic fashion. So bad is it that I have to rewrite what I already jotted down so that I can quickly enter it in to the computer later.

    The whole process feels very unproductive.

    The funny thing is I used to write a lot by hand. I kept journals, I wrote stories, essays and more. It didn't seem so bad at the time. But with the advent of word processing I can never go back. It would be like giving up Ipod and replacing it with a walkman and 40 cassettes. Far too messy, and far too much hassle.

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  6. Maybe it's because i don't write a whole lot, but i like writing with a pen and paper. It slows the whole process down and makes it a richer experience. Also, the most i've published is for my personal blog, where i often get lazy and don't fully edit my work. When i write on paper, I like to know that i will have to go through and check word for word as i type it all out. I feel more comfortable in my mistakes and my writing flows more easily this way.

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  7. Whatever works. Sometimes I do some writing with pen and paper before typing stuff up. Sometimes the writing is just making checklists of what I want in a scene. Other times it's a full on rough draft of a scene or even a whole chapter.

    With that said, there's times where I just sit down and blast something out on the computer. Either way can work, and I think that it really depends on how present the scene is in my mind. If I need to think through things more slowly and deliberately the pen and paper method works well. It's hard to explain, but if it is there and I can just blast out the scene (on the lap top) with all the details and everything that is an exciting way to go too.

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  8. You might have convinced me. I'm trying to NaNoWriMo on the computer, and it's hellish. I like my paper and pen.

    I also like your idea of only writing on one side of the notebook. Stylin' Plus no more filling up the margins with asterisks and pound signs as I try to add in that extra layer of flavour to the scene.

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