Tuesday, May 06, 2014

My Notebook

Some time ago, I asked readers to leave questions they'd like to see answered here, and I've slowly been working my way through them. So, here's a question from Liz:

My question has to do with your notebook. To what extent do you use a notebook and pencil/pen vs a computer. For instance, do you use the former to organize the plot and the latter to do the actual writing?

Once upon a time, I composed my books while sitting at the computer. Theoretically, writing at the computer is faster since it eliminates the need to transcribe. But then, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed my office, our house, and everything for miles around it, life was chaos; I had a book due, and I was finding it extraordinarily difficult to write. A friend of mine, Rexanne Becnel, has always written her books by hand, in a notebook, in a coffee shop. So I decided to try it (the notebook part, not the coffee shop part; I like solitude and quiet). The change broke whatever was blocking me; I was able to write Why Mermaids Sing in record time, and I've written by hand ever since.

I like it for a number of reasons. I have a bad back thanks to breaking it in a tobogganing accident years ago, so I find sitting for hours on a sofa, chair, or porch swing far more comfortable. Once upon a time it also took me away from the ever-present temptations of the Internet, but smart phones and iPads have wiped out that benefit. But most of all I like it because I find I write better by hand. Someone recently did a study showing that the act of holding and moving a pen stimulates creativity better than typing, so it's not simply my imagination.

In a sense, I've come full circle. When I first started writing, my kids were little and I wrote in a notebook because it was portable--I could take it to swim practice or dance classes or flute lessons.... You know what being a mother is like. Once upon a time I wrote on the backs of old printouts, but I've become more finicky with age. Now, I absolutely must use the same brand and weight of crisp white legal pads and the same type of pen every time I write. I try to type up each scene or chapter as I write it; I edit as I transcribe, and then I print it out and edit it some more. I keep the manuscript clipped together in sections. Here's the first part of book #11, which as you can see has no title yet:

 And of course, sitting on a sofa makes it easier to manage this guy:

Angel does love to 'help.'

13 comments:

JustWingingIt said...

I always love getting to hear from authors about their writing process. Even though I have absolutely no desire or inclination to write myself, I still just find the whole create-a-story-and-get-it-on-paper thing fascinating.

I also wish I had some of those cool techno gadgets all the spies and government agencies have on tv. That way I could magnify that tablet you have on your desk...see what Sebastian and Hero are up to.

I hope Angel demands good office perks. :)

Veronica

paz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paz said...

Funny about writing. The Internet demon aside, I have never written more freely than when I began writing in a computer. (Of course, my writing is strictly non-fiction.)

Before I encountered my first Apple computer in high school, I would constantly erase/cross out the first sentence of every paragraph until I was happy with it. If this meant that my page had more than 4 or five lines crossed out, I tossed the page... You get the picture.

I still have somewhat of a first line phobia, but now I virtuously spare the trees.

Charles Gramlich said...

Once in a great while I write by hand, but not often. If I could read my own handwriting I'd probably do it more.

Suzanne said...

How fascinating. I love hearing about how writer's work and organize their work. I remember reading an interview with MM Kaye in which she said she wrote her books in pencil and that she had to wear overalls when writing as she would cover her clothes with paper and pencil rubbings from all the rubbing out she did.

Angel is so cute helping you write. It is really interesting how you, like some of my friends like to work in peace and quiet. I am the opposite. If I am working on my PC I have to turn the radio on. After 30 years in a very noisy office environment I can't work without background noise.

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

It's pretty strange that, having learned how to sift through story notes and compose at a typewriter in my journalism courses at Marquette, I vastly prefer to write longhand. I don't even like emails. I just don't feel connected to the material. I like that bit about holding and moving a pen stimulating creativity.

cs harris said...

Veronica, I was careful to show only a very innocuous page, just in case!

Paz, I must admit to doing a LOT of crossing out. If it becomes too messy, I'll get up and type it while I can still read it.

Charles, I must admit there are times I can't read mine, either.

Suzanne, that's fascinating about MM Kaye. I don't feel so bad about needing a certain pad of paper and a certain pen! And I read once that the sounds of a coffee shop helps many people work better; there's actually an app that provides you with the sound. I tried it--to distracting!

Barbara, I'll have to try to find that study. It was fascinating.

Lynne said...

Suzanne likes noise but I like peace and quiet (probably comes from years working in a noisy department store). Angel reminds me of a cat I had years ago - she insisted on being 3 inches away from the sewing machine all the time. I always worried that she would stick her paw under the needle one day and I would have a catastrophe (no pun intended) on my hands. But she was too smart for that... At least Angel can't get hurt and maybe you could teach him to type while he's sitting there:).

cs harris said...

Lynne, he does sometimes type, even tho I really wish he wouldn't. He once deleted nearly an entire page without my noticing it. It wasn't until I was reading back through the chapter that I caught it and was lucky enough not to have thrown out the old paper version yet.

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