We've heard why Carolyn uses yWriter and why Sarah uses Scrivener. I'm going to join in with my cutting-edge technology. Well, cutting-edge from several centuries ago: why I write with a fountain pen on paper.
And before you say, "Wow, look at the time! It's 2013!" and turn back to your computer (thank you, Regretsy) I'll state for the record that I switched back to using a notebook after drafting four books on my computer. I'm not afraid of the machine, but I also know its limits. And mine.
So, why pen and paper?
1) Portability. If you're hanging out in the karate studio waiting area where there are more parents than seats, you don't want to be writing on a device that takes up any more room than your lap. Same goes for the subway. It's far easier to hunch over a notebook-of-paper than a notebook computer. And if you drop it or one of the kids steps on it, no biggie. (Don't try that with your MacBook Pro.) Just throw it in your hand bag or diaper bag or backpack, and you can write wherever you want. You also don't need to bring your charger.
2) Cost. The one I'm writing in now sports a thirty-eight cent price tag on the cover.
3) Aesthetics. And it's maroon. The next one in the lineup? Is green. Deep forest green. It puts me in a meditative mood. My daughter has a sparkly tie-dye notebook for her first novel. She says it's groovy. I didn't know anyone still used the word "groovy," and if I hadn't let her pick out a notebook, I still wouldn't know. See? Paper enhances your vocabulary!
4) Quirkiness. There's something awesome about holding a bottle of ink (or a ball point pen) and thinking to yourself that your entire novel is in there already, waiting for you to stretch it out.
Or buying purple pen refills, telling yourself that finally you have a reason for all that purple prose.
Okay, all kidding aside, let's get to my most important reason:
5) Emotional intimacy. The key to writing a novel that stays with the reader is the emotional story, so it's vital not to let anything impede those emotions. I found for myself that while typing, I was losing contact with the emotions in the interests of hitting my word count or even just because there was more physical distance between me and the words. When I picked up the pen and wrote the same story, the emotions came through with much less inhibition.
Quite possibly because I associate the computer with blogging, letter-writing, and business interactions, I found myself typing up sterilized, numb stories. My thirty-eight cent notebook, despite not having Many Cool Features, never got in the way. The ink flows from the pen, and my hand is in contact with the pen and the page. (My husband knows I'm not a jewelry person, but if he ever wants to give me a romantic gift, it's a fountain pen.)
6) Enforced editing. You cannot submit your first draft anywhere when it's hand-written. You cannot scene-bomb your critique partners, and you cannot query your unedited manuscript. You have one enforced edit-through because in order to share it, at some point you need to type the manuscript into some sort of word processing program. And while typing over every single word, you're going to catch things you'd gloss over if merely re-reading it (such as that ninety-six word sentence. Or the fact that the characters rolled their eyes five times in two pages. Not that I'm totally guilty of these first-draft gaffes.)
Moreover, when you have to hand-write and then re-type your entire manuscript, you're going to notice the five-thousand-word-long road trip in which nothing happens, and you'll wonder why it's so important that you have to spend over an hour typing it. (I type at 100wpm, but even at that speed -- fifty minutes. Really? Do we really need that scene?) It's my opinion that the explosion of 500-page novels happened at the same time as the advent of the word processor, and it's not always a good thing.
I wait until the end and retype my whole manuscript at once. A friend of mine writes three chapters at a time and then starts typing up a chapter for every new chapter she writes, so she's always typing about three chapters behind where she's written. Whatever works is best.
And that's the final key: whether you find a fountain pen makes you feel more intimate with your characters or whether you want a program to shuffle virtual index cards, try multiple methods until you find the solution that works for your writing. And then don't be afraid to switch around as your projects demand. Your tools don't have to be cutting-edge as long as your method supports your creativity. For linear writers who need mobility, the best solution may be the good old-fashioned way.
Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or ejecting stink bugs from the house. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise a family. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.