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Monday, February 4, 2013

Scrivener or yWriter: why I use neither

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.)

And finally,

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. 


Hillary said...

Cheers to you! I've felt those same things, and maybe today I'll go find a groovy notebook for my current work in progress! I think this book feels purple :)

Wendy said...

It feels like coming out of the closet to admit it--but I'm with you. I need a first draft on paper to slow down the writing process. Cheer to us!

Jane Lebak said...

Hillary, I bought my daughter a bunch of gel pens because the brand name was related to the subject matter of her story, so now she writes in colors too.

Wendy, it probably does slow down a bit for me, but not so much that I notice. It does feel like my brain engages differently, though, and it may be a processing speed issue.

Judie said...

Congratulations from another pen-and-paper person. I returned to the form after a couple of technological issues ate a days work.

The reason I use pen-and-paper for my first draft? When the pen runs out of ink, the paper doesn't implode.

Teresa Robeson said...

I have mediocre hand-writing that sometimes I can't even read (if I'm tired when writing), so I prefer not to write long-hand, but I love your reason 6. It's good to have a strong physical barrier to prevent one from sending the ms out right away. :)

Patchi said...

Finally, a like-minded spirit! I write down ALL my thoughts and preliminary chapter by hand. In whatever order they appear. I have separate ones for each project. That's how I get a sense of the entire novel. Once I know where the story is going, I start typing/editing and putting scenes in order. So much easier. I feel free to write uninhibited when it's on paper!

Laura S. said...

I always handwrite first! I feel closer to the story and characters with pencil and paper. Plus there's the added bonus of a smoother first draft revision process when I transfer to the computer. But I do like using Pages and Scrivener when I type in my handwritten words!

Sydney Jane Baily said...

I love the feel of a fresh notebook and I have many favorite pens, but the main reason I don't actually write pen to paper anymore is that I can't write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. I type lightning fast, but to write quickly, it becomes chicken scratch and still my hand aches. I'm in my mid-40s and my hand and forearm just plain ache with writing. I even stopped keeping a bedside diary for that reason. But I recall fondly writing my ideas all over the paper and doodling a bit, going back writing in the margins, all that stuff. Good posting.

Jane Lebak said...

Sydney, have you tried fountain pens? They're a lot easier on the wrist because you're not pushing a rollerball. The ink flows out of them rather than needing to be pushed out, so it helps a lot with regard to the hand and forearm aching.

A friend of mine learned shorthand in order to write faster. I'm not that dedicated. :-)

The Feminist Grandma said...

I'm convinced that pen to paper and fingers to keys do different things in your brain. I like the free flow of the pen. I rarely cross out, and feel no compulsion to edit myself. I buy only red spiral notebooks because I want to be read, and number them w Roman numerals because it makes them look important. (If you can't be silly in your secret writer self, where can you be silly?) You can forestall tendonitis, the bane of the type-er OR writer, with stretches: Writing arm straight in front of you, pull fingers and palm bac, then push them down.

LM Milford said...

So glad to see someone supporting notebook 1st drafts! I have to admit I fall somewhere between the two. I always have a notebook for those odd writing moments when I'm out and about but I try to keep up-to-date on typing up in case anything happens to the notebook. Thanks for a great post, Jane!

Jane Lebak said...

LM -- Pauline Griffin tells me she does the same with her writing. I believe she hand-writes but then types it up about three chapters behind where she's written, with reviews all the way through.

Sean said...

I can say I honestly love Scrivener, though I use it mainly for outlining and plotting. Most of my writing is still done in notebooks and Word. Scrivener is still an invaluable tool to me, but to each our own madness I guess. Great post!

Murg said...

I think you guys and girls are all old fashion. You might as well be using typewriters instead if computers. Being mobile and creative is the way to go. I use Evernote app to jot down ideas and put them together. This app can be downloaded to different mobile devices and will sync up all if your ideas in one place. Cloud apps like Dropbox saves and stores all of your work remotely, not on your computer. So if your computer crashes or doesn't work, you can get to your document or ideas from any computer. Work smarter not harder my friends