Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Has Anyone Seen My Quill?

I've been trying something new these past few days. Instead of using my laptop to write the first draft of MMA1, I've been writing by hand in a notebook. It's the first time I've written a story with a pen since I was about 14. So far, my fingers are holding up, although I've noticed a long forgotten callus showing up once again on my index-finger. Welcome back, callus.

I've been thinking about trying this ever since I read a post by Garth Nix. He lists a lot of positives for writing by hand -- the main one being portability. For me, it's certainly been handy being able to take my notebook into the coffee shop at lunchtime and bang out 1000 words. Sure, I could take my laptop too, but then I have to worry about power supplies, getting it on my bike with all the other stuff I have to carry, and that self-consciousness I always seem to get when I'm working on my laptop in public (I think it must be some kind of new-writer neurosis).

But the main reason I'm trying it is a bit more subtle. I have a reasonably fast typing speed, courtesy of a course the government put me through when I worked as a clerk in my early 20's. That means I can easily type 1000 words in a very short space of time. You would have thought that's a good thing, but sometimes it's not. Speed rarely equals quality, and all too often I find myself writing whole chapters that will need serious rework, if not a total rewrite, in the second draft.

With hand-writing, I go a lot slower - my current rate being something like 1000 words in a solid hour. Because it's slow, it forces me to think more about what I'm writing, to plan more what the sentences will say before they spill out of my head and onto the page. Also, because it's written in ink on paper, rather than with 1's and 0's, it has a permanency to it -- it can't easily be wiped away with the delete key. Again, that drives me to think more carefully about what I want to write before I commit it to the page.

There's a possible negative too, which I'm keeping an eye out for. Sometimes, in particular scenes, my writing gets into a fast flow. This usually happens in action moments, like fights or pursuits, where lots of things are happening fast and there is little need for detailed description. I haven't reached one of those with the handwriting yet, but when I do, I wonder if I'll find it much harder than if it were being typed. I'll have to see.

Funny thing, this writing business. There's so much to learn, it sometimes feels completely overwhelming. But I think experimenting is a big part of coming to terms with it -- researching what others do, trying it out, and seeing if it fits. If it doesn't, move on to something else. If it does, stick with it, no matter what people tell you you "should" be doing.

It's definitely a fun ride!

1Yes, I've started again. No, don't ask.

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