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?


  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.

  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!

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  9. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.
    Research Paper


Join the conversation, add insight, or disagree with us! We welcome your thoughts.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.