Friday, December 9, 2011

What color pen?

Sometimes young writers are intrigued as to the pure mechanics of writing a novel. I know I was.

Notebook, computer, pda or typewriter?

Pen or pencil?

What color pen?
Black lately but I once wrote a really good short story in green ink so I standardized on that for a year!

Truthfully. It doesn't matter as long as it works for the individual writer, but still we try to find that magic combination.

Way back when, there was a magazine called SMART. It was the perfect magazine for me - hit me where I lived... brilliantly written, clever, cultural and aesthetically really cool.

I recall that there was once an article about Hunter S. Thompson and part of it detailed the mechanics. He used to put his chapters in plastic bags and pin them to his bulletin board. That was his organizational technique. Since I was a fan of Hunter and struggled with organizing my writing - I tried his method.

Didn't do so great.

My chapters kept falling off the bulletin board. I used bags that were too small so the chapters squished in awkwardly. And it was cumbersome to my nervous reading and re-reading to always be going in and out of the bags. It worked for Hunter. Not for me.

My technique of writing "The Missionary and the Brute" is pretty much the standard one I have come to adopt for all my writing. I begin writing in a notebook. (For "The Hand Behind the Mouse" I used spiral notebooks. They are all stacked in bankers boxes in storage. For "Bungee Jumping & Cocoons" I used composition books.) With age, I have become snobbish and have come to love the nice notebooks with leatherette covers and latches...

I tend to write/scrawl/draw quite rapidly. The words fly out upon the page for the first draft. Sometimes I can even read them later if I'm lucky. The main thing for me is to get something on that blank page. Words, thoughts, sentences, and then I'm off and running...

After I have a chapter done in the notebook, I transfer to the computer. Using Microsoft Word, I type the text in. This is really my second pass at the writing. I tidy up some things here and there, but mostly I just deepen it, enhance it and give it more resonance. Sometimes in my notebooks, I leave huge gaps knowing that there is a transition to be filled in later, those get filled as I type.

Then I print it out.

Usually it sits for a bit because I'm onto the next chapter in the notebook, but eventually I'll find a peaceful time to read what I have done thus far. On the printed out version - I edit it further with all kinds of scrawls and self-made diacritical marks. This is usually quite messy. For even though I have 'written' twice, this is polishing and making it resonant. Very critical time in the process for me.

To make this process manageable for me, I use a spreadsheet to document my routine. Typically I set myself a reachable daily goal in terms of words written. It is accumulated so I know what my total goal is for the book and how I am progressing. I tend to be really realistic in my numbers. I have never NOT made my quota. And in fact as I get into it, I adjust my quotas - typically up quite significantly - to accommodate my current pace.

When it is all done - I let it sit for a few months. Simmering in a drawer. Clearing the head of all preconceived encumbrances. And then I go back in and re-read my paper copy, edit and scrawl again (usually minimal - whew!) and then call it complete.

Sometimes I make an X on the title page to signify closure...

... in red ink.


Katherine I. Cespedes said...

This is priceless! And soo very helpful to anyone who is seeking to bring their writing to the next level by observing how a *professional* goes about the craft!

Thank you sooo much for being so generous with your readers and all of those who see in you an inspiration...

Like me! :)

Catherine Noble said...

I love this post :) I couldn't help giggling at the bagged chapters falling off the wall!