I recently made a vow to start drafting things longhand.
The main reason for this was I’d begun to worry I had been producing quantity at the possible expense of quality. 12 books in 12 months entailed typing a lot of nonsense very quickly, training my WPM to ninja levels and getting me into the habit of writing without worrying about what my inner editor had to say on the matter. ‘Screw you blank page,’ I would say, ‘I have shit to do.’ But whilst this was liberating and fun and gave me a lot of writing practice – all wondrous things indeed – lately I’ve been thinking it may have created a monster. A felty, Sesame Street sort of monster more than Cthulhu, but a monster nonetheless.
Y’see, I reached a point where I was sitting at my computer to write without necessarily thinking about what was going on the page. Here is my creative process:
Me: right, I’m going to do a thousand words of this story now.
Me: [opens Write or Die]
Me: [calibrates settings to 1000 words in 20 minutes]
Me: [calibrates settings? What are you supposed to be, Christopher Lloyd?]
Me: [BAM BAM BAM I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM SAYING]
Me: Good work dude. Time for a coffee.
Then my coffee and I take 20-40 minutes to look back over what I’ve written. Sometimes it’s OK, depending how far along with the story I was to begin with – but sometimes I’m like ‘crap, what the hell is going to happen now? That creates all kinds of narrative issues! If only I’d plotted this before I started writing it, or at least thought about it for a little longer!’
Which is why I thought I’d have a crack at writing longhand.
Writing with pen and paper, like some sort of caveman, is quite sedate. You end up looking around , doodling, mulling over problems. At the moment, after two years of conscientiously splurging out ALL THE WORDS, this feels like procrastination – but an awful lot of people reckon that’s an important part of the creative process, which now looks like this:
Me: I’m off to sit in the park with my notebook.
Me: [Finds spot in park. Writes a bit.]
Me: [Stops and gazes enigmatically into mid distance.]
Small Child: WHAT ARE YOU WRITING?
Me: Just a wee story.
Small Child’s Mother, from about 8 miles away: LEAVE THE LADY ALANE!
Then I write more – either until the story/chapter is done or my hand aches or I really need to pee – and my handwriting gets progressively worse, but I figure the content is OK because there’s no internet in the park, which must mean I’ve properly focussed.
The only snag is that whatever I have come up with can then remain in my notebook for anything from a day to six years. When I do eventually transfer it to the computer, edits and rewriting automatically occur between page and screen, which is good. There again, six years is a long time…
The other trouble I’ve been having, probably exacerbated by deciding to alter my creative process, is a bout of self doubt. Thinking more means asking more questions, and my main question lately has been ‘what even is that plot? It’s too simple / complicated / there basically isn’t one. Why have you forgotten how to write a story? Get a real job!’
My writing style is fine, but the substance? I dunno. And it doesn’t help that I’ve been juggling two novel manuscripts and lots of short stories for competitions. There again, I’ve seen several tweets from writers lately that hint at similar soul searching – maybe it’s just the time of year where writers suddenly go ‘aw man, I’m actually a really terrible writer! This career choice was no more than a delusion! How did my nearest and dearest let it continue for 20 freakin years with no intervention?!’
I suspect that most of this is just me adjusting to a new way of working – one that in the long run should help me to produce higher quality work. After all, people produce their best stuff when they’re feeling tortured, right? Right.
Glad we had this talk.
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