October Fiction Challenge 4: Where and How Do You Write? – Part 1


A perfectly good workspace: the desk in my office (notably, with a box open for shipping off my fried laptop). To my Hawaiian friends or fans of The Descendents, the print on the wall, bought by my parents in DC 20 years ago, hung on the wall in the family’s HI house in the movie.

Today’s post continues a series of responses to October Writing Challenges posed by fellow bloggers.

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To catch up on October’s Writing Challenges:

If you join in, post your links in the comments!

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Today’s post returns to the great 30-question list featured in Herding the Dragon’s 30-day challenge, to address Part 1 of the theme, “Where and How Do You Write?”

Day 5.) Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol’ pen and paper?

We have an expression in our family — “Don’t poke a sleeping bear” — and this question is provoking me to rant over how frustrated I’ve been without a laptop since its meltdown in July. I am an adamant laptop writer.

Pen and paper is fine. Early on, my first mode of writing was a fountain pen and a cheap composition book (I’ve had tons of “fine” leather journals, but find something freeing about not having to live up to the cover). I liked fountain pens because they flow quickly, removing one more level of resistance — but over time (and surely in response to all the complications parenthood adds), I’ve simplified to “any pen on hand.”

Two interesting observations about writing by hand:

  • I learned in education classes that the physiology of writing something by hand records it more deeply in your memory. In this sense, if I’m in the car or on the run, the simple process of dashing something down (even if I never read it later) makes me more likely to remember the idea when I am back to a computer. Brain research shows this is particular to the wiring of eye-hand coordination and handwriting; typing and dictating do not have the same effect.
  • I was mortified as a teenager to have one of my writing notebooks passed around between tittering family members. Perfect cure to this is that my handwriting has evolved to something nearly illegible, as if only I have the spy decoder for transcribing it.

I have two main complaints about writing by hand. One is that I have come to hate paper in general, as it piles in drifts that are hard to relocate, get damaged or lost, and no one seems to read. Spoken as someone who once knocked a cup of coffee into my notes drawer while vacuuming.

Worse than this is the inefficiency of it. I was able to continue full days of revising my WIP over the summer, while traveling after my laptop died. I marked editing notes on a print copy, wrote new sections in a notebook, used flags and highlighters and… yes, I got a lot done. The wastefulness is that I now have to double that effort, as all those notations have to be typed in.  The greatest limit most of us have is time, and I’d rather type something once than have the same effort take my attention twice.  It’s hard to be stuck typing last month’s changes when you want to move on to the new thoughts in your head.

Overall, the computer is more organized and faster. When drafting, I work rapidly in what I call an “add on” document, writing sections out of order, not worrying about spelling, capitalization or punctuation. Quick keystrokes fix the conventions.  I then work with two documents open at once: I copy draft sections from the “add on” document, pasting only those I want to use into the actual draft document, fixing order, chapter/section breaks, etc. as I go.  To keep orderly, I switch the text I’ve used to blue in my add on document, so I know what I’ve used.  I’ve started using Scrivener, which is fabulous for tracking themes, getting perspective, reorganizing, and making revisions.

Where I am adamant about using a laptop is that a desktop computer is frustrating in allowing you to work in only one place. I have an actual office in the house — with a computer on a real desk, with files, bookcases and everything — but it kills productivity to only work there.

I write at all hours of the day and especially like being able to sit next to my boys, wherever they are, and not have my writing keep me isolated from our daily life. I don’t mind the desktop during my disciplined work time (in the morning after the boys are at school, before leaving to teach my afternoon classes), but prefer the lucid flow of ideas I get late at night, when I don’t want to be here at the desk. My favorite place to write, at any hour, is sitting in bed, as the light and energy in my room are like an airy treehouse.

When traveling, I write anywhere — but I am not generally a cafe writer.  I’m too curious for that. When I’m out, I’m watching and listening, not writing. That’s actually one of my greatest weaknesses when attending conferences or workshops: I’m easily distracted. Look! Squirrel! Yeah.

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Where and how do you write? Have you tried Scrivener, or have you wondered if it is an effective tool for novel writing?  Share your experience — or links to your own responses to October challenges — in the comments.

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4 Comments

Filed under Novel Writing, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

4 responses to “October Fiction Challenge 4: Where and How Do You Write? – Part 1

  1. Where and how does one write? Neat question.

    More often than not, I write on my laptop finding the mobility of it a big bonus – outside (least productive for me), dining room table, etc. Every now and again I’ll sit at my desktop, but I do that only when I feel like sitting in that space. I would love to write with pen and paper because I too have found there is something to the eye-hand coordination aspect. But, the thought of typing everything into a computer after writing is unpalatable.

    Big difference for me though, I am not what I would call a disciplined writer. (It seems so many people are!) I think, in part, it is because I am trying to find my way in this big world of writing. So, my “how do I write” is when I have time and when I can lower the volume on my inner critic.

    I really appreciate this series of posts, Elissa. They are helping me form thoughts and ideas around the topic of writing.
    Kelly

  2. Is that a Pegge Hopper original oil? Writing Space is the name of my blog where I am discovering spaces both physical and metaphorical to write. I also have a series of Writerly Nooks…mostly outdoors, where I like to write. I use combination of laptop, Mead composition books (I’m with you about plan journals), legal pads, and any old scrap will do. It gets serious on the computer.

    • elissa field

      Yes, it’s a Hopper, although it’s an artist’s print rather than an original. You were the Hawaiian friend I thought might recognize the artist. :) I love your posts in Writing Space on places where you write. Next time you post one, you should add a link here (or link to your last?). I remember one about place(s) you write in the museum where you volunteer (am I right about that?). Thanks for posting!

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