I have been writing for 26 years. (Dude, I say that way too much. I must have a complex or something) In all of those years I have discovered the single most important and valuable writing tool ever. It is not complicated. It is not expensive. It has been in use for hundreds if not thousands of years. It is without a doubt a writer’s best friend. It is…
Paper and Pen.
Paper and pen is where it all began. Ages before laptops and Word, before the oft-forgotten typewriter even, it, or rather they, existed. Some of the greatest writers of all time, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, used these lowly, remarkable elements. They are portable. They are recyclable. They can run out of ink when it’s inconvenient, but finding more is a heck of a lot easier than fixing a computer. It’s a lot less stressful than having your comp crash in the middle of a sentence when you know you haven’t saved in a while (raise your hand if that’s happened to you and you have screamed out loud for a very long time. *raises hand*). On paper lines can be crossed out and kept in mind for later. It’s a lot easier to retrieve data from a crumpled up piece of paper that you chucked across the room in disgust than it is from a file you deleted in a fit of pique.
We writers of the modern world may scoff at the humble pad of paper and box of pens. Writing in such an antiquated style really makes your hand hurt. It’s a pain in the patoot to type all that work into a word processor. When you spill coffee on it after staying up late into the night to finish a scene you end up with a living-room strewn with damp pieces of paper in danger of being attacked by the cats.
These are but small prices to pay for genius.
For years and years I wrote everything in spiral-bound notebooks. I have boxes of notebooks that have been toted through three states and seven residences with me. They are not light. But there’s something to be said for having a tangible record of your early years. I love looking at my teenage handwriting. Actually, it was neater than my handwriting is these days! There is a deep comfort in knowing that no matter how technology changes, no matter what operating system or word processing system I am using in the future, I will have these stories.
Nowadays I write on a computer. I can now type faster than I can write by hand. I can type at the speed of my thoughts, which is incredibly helpful. But I get incredibly stuck from time to time. And when I write myself into a corner I’ve found that the best tool to get out is a good old pad of paper and a pen.
In my humble opinion, story notes are best written by hand. I keep running into walls with my current work in progress. Bashed my head against those walls is more like it. There have been times when I have come close to giving up and abandoning the book. But when those moments of frustration hit I’ve been whipping out the good old pad of paper and a pen and scribbling down what I know about the story. These note are not written in perfect prose or even complete sentences. I don’t worry about spelling. I write without bothering over whether any of it makes sense. I scribble. I cross things out. I stop sentences in the middle and start over again on a new like. I editorialize things like “no, wait, that can’t happen” and “oh crap, if I do that it changes the entire plotline” in the middle of my notes. It’s fluid and spontaneous. It gets my brain juices running.
My favorite use of paper and pens that can’t be duplicated electronically, at least not for me, is to make lists. I write lists of what has happened so far in my plot. I write lists of what needs to happen before the end and lists of things that could happen. Then I circle, draw lines, number events in the order they need to happen, annotate, and cross things out. You can’t do this sort of brainstorming on a computer. And you know what? It actually helps! I can’t tell you how amazing it is to suddenly gain clarity from a white page with blue lines and little old fashioned black curlicues of my worn, familiar cursive. I get excited and write words with three Rs instead of two or without key consonants. What appears to be indecipherable gobbledygook to anyone else is, in fact, the key to unlocking my story block and moving on.
All for the price of a few office supplies
swiped from the supply closet at work purchased at my local Wal-Mart.
So do not neglect the noble paper and pens, my friends, for within their ancient tradition lies the answer to your stories’ every need.