The Scratching of a Pen

I talked a while back about the actual tools of writing.  Stay with me on this, the topic isn’t as pedantic and pointless as it sounds…err, I hope.

Hey, give me a break, I’m still on my first cup of coffee!

I’ve said many times to friends and family alike that “I think with my pen.”  The reality is probably better said as “I think with words.”  To really work through them, I have to record my thoughts somehow.  Just the act of doing so is often enough to get the chaos of thoughts and ideas and emotions straight in my head.  Even with the background stuff for the stories I write, I seldom have to go back and revisit*: I thought through the material as I wrote it, and it is now (generally) clear in my head.

*I’m talking about basic background info and theories/themes, not character and plot details…those I do revisit.  Often.

But how does that tie to the tools of writing?  It’s not convenience, and it’s not access.  No, instead it has far more to do with speed.  Speed of recording, but also speed of thought.

I type fast.  Very fast, actually.  Hey – you hear that mom and dad?  All those computer games and chat rooms when I was young actually did something.  Yeehaw!

At any rate, I type fast enough to keep pace with my thoughts…mostly.

But when I type, I’m putting words on the page as fast as the thoughts are taking shape.  There’s very little filter between brain and screen.  That’s one reason why I plan and outline my scenes before I write them: when I don’t, when I go pure stream-of-consciousness, it is far too easy to go squirrel-chasing…an event you may have seen on this here imitation pseudo-blog.

When I know what I want to write, however, and I have a goal and a theme to work with, I love typing.  When I type, I can write a lot…I think my record is a shade over 5,000 words in a day.  I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s a full-on metric shit-ton in my world.

But when I’m exploring?  Things have to slow down.  I need time and space between thought and word…I need the slow scratching of a pen on paper.  Aside from the fact that I love to actually, physically write, it is also the best way to consider and weigh and evolve the ideas as they come to fruition.

The idea behind this post came about because I am working on background material as we, err, speak.  I am writing the background material for DockRat 2, and exploring the thoughts and needs as I go.  Doing things like that by hand gives me more time to spend on those ideas, and more opportunity to develop and evolve them.

It’s still possible to go wandering off in strange and random directions, but since my thoughts are generally well ahead of my pen those squirrel-moments are less pointlessly random and more considered and effective.

Now there are downsides to the pen & paper thing, don’t get me wrong.  In a single session I can get a max of about 1,500 words put down.  After that my hand is a wreck…as is my brain (which ain’t all that unusual for me, I have to admit).

The other hard part, the other downside of the slower pace, is that the ‘filter’ sometimes gets clogged.  If and when I reread what I wrote, it’s a good bet that I unconsciously missed/skipped a few words here and there.  Usually it’s the small ones, as my hand struggles to keep up, but there have been times when I’ve had to decipher just what the hell I was talking about in certain sentences.

Editing is also something I split between on-screen and on-paper.  The first couple of passes are purely electronic.  It’s faster, and I don’t have to do all that annoying, clunky typing-in of hand edits.  But the last pass or two is (generally) on paper.  I want to really see and feel the words, in a way that my computer or iPad screen just can’t communicate, and I want that filter to be back in place between brain and paper.

So, the point of this whole exercise: the tools and the manner of writing do matter.  Every writing session has to have a point, both in what you create and in how you create it.  What are you going for?  Adjust how you work to fit that and you’ll be one huge step ahead.

Oh, and for those writers who came before and hand wrote their manuscripts from start to finish, I have nothing but love and awe!

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