The power of pen and paper


I noticed that, even when I am only using the mouse, I still rest my left fingers on the A, S and D keys on the keyboard. This means that the paint on the keys is wearing off faster than everyplace else on the keyboard, except maybe for the extra-shiny place on the space bar that I hit even more often. I don’t always type with the ‘correct’ fingers on the keys, because I use my right hand way more than the left in general, but I am a very fast and mostly-accurate typist. I kind of have to be, because it’s my job.

That being said, today I woke up missing the way I used to write when I was younger. Good old fashioned pen and paper. I can’t believe how much I wrote back before I got a computer. In fact, even once I had a computer, I didn’t really want to use it to write first drafts of stuff. There was always something so rewarding about filling up both sides of a piece of loose-leaf paper, and then another, and another… and then the pen would slowly run out, so you could see where I switched to a new pen. I burned through pens all the time.

I’ve attempted writing in longhand recently, and I’m sad to report it didn’t do much for me anymore. I felt like my hands couldn’t keep up with my thoughts and I ended up with sore wrists and fingers from the tense, fast writing style I was using to try to get it all out as quickly as possible. At least with typing, I can get words out a whole lot faster. But it’s not the same, you know?

Writing, pen to paper, is such a classic thing. Writers have been doing it by hand since the beginning of time. There is something so elemental about the texture of paper under your hands, the way your handwriting uniquely captures what you are thinking in a way no typewriter or computer can… I miss it. Maybe one day, after the worldwide apocalypse, I will go back to only writing by hand. That would be an upside to an apocalypse, I guess.

The very first draft of my book about Zachary was in longhand. I started writing it sitting in my living room on a summer day, near the window. I had smoked some weed by myself beforehand, and was feeling all creative and energized. I don’t know why I always remember that, but I do. Writing by hand felt so perfect back then. I went on for almost exactly 100 pages before I suddenly stopped and changed direction completely. And so began the numerous variations and rewrites that have all been on computer, ever since. Some of those drafts are saved on floppy disks that I can only use in my PC. Weird. And I have a small pile of the very old, REALLY floppy disks from the late 80s that contain my rewrites of my first book, when I was writing on an Apple IIE in our living room, printing out what I did on the dot-matrix printer. What can I really do with those disks, exactly? What I should have done was convert them all over to 3.5” floppy disks when I had a computer with both types of drives. But I didn’t. Now I am stuck with these strange things that cannot be accessed. I’ve got all kinds of writing saved on those disks. It’s so weird how technology has changed so much and now I can’t even see that data I created all those years ago. I’m sure that somewhere, there is a company or machine that can convert that data, but I’m not going to find it any time soon. I’ve got enough to do as it is, trying to make myself write new stuff as much as possible.

My books now come in waves. I’ll have long, powerful waves of storytelling that come along and take over for days or weeks at a time. And then, the tide goes back out. And doesn’t come back for days or weeks, again. In some cases, I can go months without writing a new sentence for any of my books.

This is the case right now. I haven’t written anything new on my Zachary book since the first week of January. I’m shocked. Time went very fast. I had a lot of defeatist thoughts about the book this winter; thoughts that told me to just put it aside and write something else already. I friended Writer Ex on Facebook and he told me his second novel will be coming out this fall. And he is in rewrites on his third book. This could have motivated me, but instead it made me think “what’s the point in trying? I’m not going to be able to devote that kind of time and energy to my writing to ever go anywhere with it like he has.”

I started to think of my fiction writing as just a secret little hobby I did once in awhile, but not something that could ever go anywhere. I wasn’t doing this in a depressed, “woe is me” kind of mindset, either. Actually, I think I was feeling a dose of realism. You can’t make it as a novelist if you don’t put the time and effort into your work. It’s a simple fact. And I have not been putting time or effort into anything creative for some time now. I have begun to seriously wonder if I should shift to a new creative endeavor. Not that I have any idea what that could be, because I don’t have any ideas. It just sucks that I have let my fiction writing get to this point, you know? It was the one thing I really liked about myself, the one thing I was passionate about and have been doing for my whole life. Yet here I am, at the end of the workday, tired of thinking and tired of typing. I end up going out for the night, or watching shows I’ve DVR’ed.

I feel like I’m avoiding my own so-called favorite thing for no good reason. It doesn’t make any sense! Why am I not doing it? Why am I doing everything BUT write when I have free time? Who the hell have I become?

Well, I’m facing this head-on today. I don’t know why I woke up thinking about writing, about writing with a pen, but it’s been a few hours now and I think it means something. This could be some kind of wake-up call to get back to writing, even if I need to jog it along the old-fashioned way. Maybe I need to sit with some paper and a pen, near a window, and just start writing that way.


Could it be my brain’s trying to tell me that this is now just a hobby, a habit, from my past? That it was only ever meant to be something I did in private, for myself, the way I did it back when I was prolific with a pen? Maybe I need to walk away and do something else. I’d need a little more info from the universe on that note, though. I mean, what is the other thing I should do? I feel like time is fading away fast, and soon I won’t have any time or creative energy left to get a huge project like writing a book (let alone the long process of shopping it around to agents, publishers and doing rewrites) finished. If I can’t finish this, what CAN I do? Can I see things through to completion, ever? These are all very complex thoughts. Tough thoughts. Things that make me feel uneasy when I think them. But I think I need to think about this. Face whatever it is that is holding me back and either accept it or fight it off.

On Fringe, Walter Bishop had part of his brain removed so he could ‘forget’ about some of the things he had done because those things could be dangerous if he allowed himself to think and develop those thoughts further. I definitely have days when I wish I could remove the part of my brain that carries the Zachary story around, like an ever-present phantom limb or something. I want the story OUT of my head. I really, really do. I’m tired of it, and yet, I can’t seem to figure out how to let it go, really. That’s because I do care, deep down. I do enjoy thinking about it. But I need to practice some tough-love with myself, maybe. The old phrase “shit or get off the pot” comes to mind.

Either I do it, or I don’t.

Something has to come to a head, soon. It has to.


4 responses »

  1. I agree. I always preferred longhand. Funny how I do so little of it now that my muscles are untrained and start to hurt so quickly! Thank goodness I’m not doing any serious writing, like I did in school!

    All of the authors I’m following on Twitter right now seem to have set times of day that they write, in certain places, for certain duration, setting a timer and withholding rewards like whatever TV series they are hooked on via Netflix or DVR until they churn out a set number of words/pages. Maybe something like that would help?

  2. YES. That’s exactly what I need to start doing. I have always considered doing the set-time, each-day thing and yet I’ve never attempted it. I think I will. I mean, as I wrote this (and re-read it today, when I posted it), I realized that I truly don’t want to give up on my writing, when it gets down to it. But like anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it. So I need to start making an actual, measurable effort if I am going to see anything happen! Thanks for weighing in. I appreciate it. 🙂

  3. I think there is something about writing longhand that does something to the brain to make the creative process flow better. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I think about how much easier it would be to write what I want on the computer and then I start to try to get my thoughts out and it doesn’t work out right. If I hand write something, it always seems that my true emotions come out and actually make more sense. Hmm. I just never make the time for either.

  4. I miss writing. I used to write long notes to people. Now if I try my hand cramps and I can’t make them work and I end up chicken scratching or writing in code.

    Maybe just do notes in longhand? So you still have some of that and then flesh it out on the computer.

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