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How Do You Write?

My Underwood is too pretty to type on

I found this neat article on “alternatives” to using a laptop.  It’s over HERE if you want to check it out.  Personally, I find the idea of using electric typewriters pretty gross.  They have none of the useful function of a laptop, but none of the benefits of a truly analog device.  But that could just be me.  When I do use my old manual typewriter, I take great comfort in the fact that I can’t check my email, or get distracted by the online world.

But the article prompted some interesting thoughts.  The actual mechanism with which I write is not as important as what I write, of course, but how much is one influenced by the other?  For example, the best thing about using a typewriter is that I have to go fast.  It turns off my internal editor for a while and I can concentrate on getting the words on the page.  I know that I’ll have to type it into the computer later and I can take care of on-the-spot edits at that point.  It’s liberating, but doesn’t always fit my writing ‘mood’.  On the other hand (literally!), if I’m using a pen and paper I always write for efficiency.  That is to say, I only have so much time and power in me, before my hand cramps up and makes my life hell.  Seriously, I have wussy hands.  If I write longhand for an hour I feel like my fingers are made of wood.  To counter this, I stretch my fingers and la da dee da – but the important work has to get sorted before that pen touches the paper.  It changes the way I assemble the words before they leave my brain.  Is it better?  Is any which way particularly worse?  Well, it depends on what I’m writing, I guess.

A few years ago I amazed myself with a solid day of writing.  I lost track of the time, to be honest and I don’t know how long it was.  Ten hours?  Maybe it was twelve.  There was a lot of coffee, many bathroom breaks and a whole lot of cigarettes.  When it was over and I crawled into bed, I felt as though I had prevailed over some terrible ordeal.  I was a better, stronger person in some way.  But there’s no way I’d want to make a habit out of it!  There wasn’t any particular disadvantage that arose from such strenuous activity.  The next day, I got up and went back to work.  It’s an interesting contrast, but I wonder if I’m a better writer because of it.

As anyone who is “out” as a writer can attest, there are always a lot of questions from family and friends.  The most dreaded for me is, “How’s that story/novel/project going?”  Oh geez, how do I even approach an answer?  I usually ask which story/novel/project – because it’s probably not what I’m working on at the moment, thanks.  But the other day a friend asked me an odd, out of the blue question:  “How do you start writing a story?”  On the surface, it was simple, but he really meant the nitty-gritty, down in the dirt kind of details.  I was at a loss for a bit, but I answered as honestly as I could:  “I put the pen to the paper and the words come out.  Everything after that is editing.”  I told him about how I brainstorm, how I use story prompts and how I visualize scenes and characters, but I kept coming back to that point in my thoughts.  You just have to start writing.

All that being said, I guess it doesn’t matter what kind of instrument I use to write with.  Sure, they produce different methods and some allow me a lot more flexibility (thank you Google!).  If I had to write books like Stephen Hawking does – one ponderous letter at a time – would that stop me?  Would it stop you?  Might slow some of us down, I suppose.  It may be that that’s a good thing.  I’m going to give it a try, break out of my routine a wee bit.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  He is still working on that one novel – no, the other one.  Yes, the one with the screaming and the blood. (sigh) No, the other one with the screaming and the blood.  Yeah, he really should seek help about that.

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