Writing vs. Typing

I’ve made a commitment to myself to write 200 words or more each day. For the past two weeks, I’ve kept it. Most days, I’m able to write a lot more than 200 words, which is great. But on those days where I’m busy or exhausted or not feeling it for whatever reason, 200 is a pretty small number I can reach fairly quickly, even if I end up scrapping everything in a revision. It’s a way to hit a goal no matter how great or blah I’m feeling each day.

When I say I’ve done it every day, I should clarify that some days I hand-write and other days I type, so I don’t get an accurate count on the hand-written days. My husband and I share a computer and he has school work to do, so we have to take turns and the computer isn’t always available when I’m feeling most creative.

I used to hand-write everything for a first draft. I have entire novels in smudged ink and loose-leaf pages, packed away in boxes. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or efficiency that has shifted my preference toward typing. It saves time — I’m not writing essentially the same thing twice — and makes editing, tracking progress, and fitting together story bits so much easier.

But this week, being “forced” to return to handwriting parts of my story has reminded me of the art I fell in love with. There’s something beautiful about the connection between ink and paper, the power and vulnerability of a creator.

For the sake of time, especially when I have a long scene developing in my mind, I’ll choose typing into a computer, but when I have the time to let my mind — and pen — wander, I’ll indulge in the art form of my predecessors and carry the inkstains on my fingers for days.

Advertisements

The Painful Joys of Writing: Research

My current WIP (that’s work-in-progress, Mom) is a historical fiction novel set during WWII. I’ve always been fascinated by that time: the beauty and the tragedy, the resiliency of the people and the fact that those generations can laugh after the horrors they witnessed.

My other stories have been completely imaginary, so it’s been refreshing having a number of sources to go to with questions rather than having to make everything up. The Internet is an amazing thing, with just a few clicks, I get more knowledge than I ever needed.

This is also a drawback.

Sometimes, I get too hung up on stupid tiny details that are only important for making the story authentic. My characters are going dancing in D.C.? Let me just Google what clubs might have been around in the early ’40s (spoiler alert: this was not as simple as it sounds. It took me days of research to scratch out a number of dance clubs my characters might have attended).

Wikipedia is helpful but not completely trustworthy. Its hyperlinked words make it too easy for me to wander, too. For example, my characters need a summer activity to be doing (or on their way to doing) when they run into another character (at which point, said activity no longer matters). Still, I can’t just say they’re eating ice cream at the waterfront. Today’s DC waterfront is nothing like 1940s DC waterfront (was there even much of a “waterfront”?). Google tells me the area I’m thinking of (now near the AMC Loews theater) used to be the site of the Georgetown incinerator. So…people probably weren’t hanging around where they were burning trash. So maybe they went to a museum. Or just hung around one of the monuments or memorials. The Wikipedia page for the National Monument takes me through the Lincoln Memorial page to the the Reflective Pool (not built yet in their time), to the Tidal Basin, to the WWII Memorial, to the grafitti “Kilroy was here” and the next thing I know, I’m reading about rationing in Great Britain during and after the war.

Also, my interest to know whatever I can about the ’40s is a drawback during quick-research time. In this example, I figure the Tidal Basin is probably a good area my characters could end up, so I leave the page open to read in a second, but first I want to continue reading about Marian Anderson’s epic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after she was not allowed to perform at the DAR (because she was African American). And in reading more about Anderson, I find out she was good friends with Albert Einstein. He was really big in the Civil Rights Movement (and referred to himself as a devout anti-racist). One thing leads to another and two hours later I’ve somehow ended up reading about the U.S.O. in World War II.

Now my brain is full to bursting will all this barely-necessary knowledge and I’ve completely forgotten what I originally set out to look up. Forget about the actual story I wanted to write around that little detail–it’s gone. I leave the story for the following day, only to wake up and find the blank I’ve literally drawn to remind myself I need a relevant detail, and the process starts all over.

The Painful Joys of Writing: Oblivion

Writing is both cathartic and stressful. In my mind, I see a story unfold or envision an excellent conversation or picture a vivid scene, but when I’m ready to translate the images into words, many times I end up frustrated with the result.

But there are times, glorious times, when the perfectionist in me can let go. I draw a blank–literally, a blank on the page–to be filled in later, I’ll put big question marks over something I’m not sure of or at the end of an awkwardly worded sentence and just move on. My writing picks up and the world melts away.

I ran cross country in high school. (Stay with me–this is related). It was hard and painful and I told myself and my parents and coaches and friends that I did my best but honestly, I’m not so sure I ever did. My brain and my lungs and my legs were all like “yep, that’s all I’ve got,” but looking back, I don’t think my heart got there. See, everyone talked about this idea of a “Runner’s High,” where a person pushes herself beyond the pain and the struggle and the fatigue and suddenly, it all disappears. I never broke through that wall with running. I ran for a lot of reasons and a lot of people; I ran with the varsity team during several meets my sophomore year and all of junior year, I medaled at a meet (once), and I did push through shin splints and stiff knees and sore ankles, but it was never for me. I never ran just for myself, and so I never really experienced that promised high.

I get it with writing. My hand cramps up and my eyes strain and my back aches and my neck pops. But I keep going, sinking further into the words coming out of me, the life swirling inside of me, until there’s nothing and no one but my characters. My handwriting turns nearly illegible, or my typing is filled with those obnoxious red squiggles, but perfection can wait as the letters and words tumble out faster than my fingers can form them.

When this happens, time has no meaning. I’ve sat at a desk for six hours after work without noticing the sun setting. I often have to be jarred out of this trance-like state if there’s any hope for me to rejoin the land of the living in a timely manner. And don’t expect me to be pleasant if I’ve been pulled away just when my story is flowing well. In general, it is usually better to let me taper off.

My husband is getting very good at this. There have been times when he’s come home to me furiously typing or scribbling and I’ve told him there’s no dinner and I’m not sure when there might be (side note: I’m the cook in the family. He can boil up some rice like nobody’s business, sure, but dinner is my forte). He’ll remind me I need to eat, too, before going across the street for sandwiches. Then he’ll return, gently trying to coax me away to eat something. I tell him just a little bit longer and I’ll grab something. The next thing I know, all the lights are off and the apartment is silent and it’s past midnight, and I’ve completely forgotten that I was supposed to eat.

I’ll show up at work the following morning bleary-eyed and ravenous, but the worst part will be struggling to pick up the fast-unraveling thread of a story from the night before. Too often, it slips through my stiff, swollen fingers.

But the promise of another Writer’s High keeps me going. Because I’m doing this for me. And nothing energizes my spirit like a solid night of bleeding my story onto the page.