Starting With Pen or Keyboard?

Do you write your fiction stories longhand before typing them? I do, and I’m not alone. There are several great blog posts touting the benefits of the pen, by Lee Rourke, Patrick E. McLean, Melanie Pinola, Chris Gayomali, and Julianne MacLean.

LonghandWhy do we pen-wielders do it? Why do we eschew the fantastic technology of the modern era, designed specifically to make writing easier, and choose instead the old-fashioned, obsolete, and outmoded pen and paper?

Are we Luddites? Are we afraid of, and angry about, those newfangled machines with their pushbuttons, glowing screens, and word processors?

Maybe some are, but not me. I love my laptop and am quite at home with its wizardry. I type at a competent speed, and am adept with word processors. No fear there.

While working on this post, I thought hard about my reasons for preferring the age-old writing stick over more recent digital marvels. There are many reasons why people still pick up pens in a computerized world, but these are not my reasons:

  • There are fewer distractions; I’m less likely to pause to look up things, research, respond to e-mail, etc.
  • It’s easier to ignore my inner editor and so I write better first drafts.
  • I get a better sense of accomplishment when I see the cross-outs, arrows, insertions, etc. rather than pristine text.
  • I can reconsider deleted text since it’s still visible.
  • My speed of writing longhand matches my thought process better  than my typing speed.
  • Longhand evokes the spirit of writing as a craftsman’s task, writing books the way all the great classics were written.
  • I prefer the tactile sensation of my favorite pen scratching out words on paper to the frenetic pushing of dozens of identical buttons.
  • I write my first drafts faster in longhand.
  • Pen and paper are far more reliable than computer or tablet.
  • Studies have found that, in people who are equally skilled in longhand and typing (children), that longhand produces better writing faster.
  • Other famous writers like Truman Capote, Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, and Susan Sontag write (or wrote) longhand.

True, some of the above reasons resonate with me. But if I cited them, I’d really be rationalizing a decision made because of a different factor. Here’s the real reason I use a pen:

  • It’s the only way to make my commuting time effective. I commute to my day job by subway train, and I cannot bring a tablet computer to work, so writing longhand is the only way to do it.

I still have to transcribe my inky scribbles to a computer. But that becomes the first revision process for me. Writing looks different when it’s clean and pristine on the screen rather than the unplanned dreamland of longhand. The act of transcribing therefore becomes the creation of a second draft. Often I’ll print that out double-spaced and do further editing of follow-on drafts on the train, with a pen.

When I’ll retire from the day job, I’ll have to rethink my writing habits and might retire my pen. Old habits die hard, though. We’ll see.

What’s your preference, pen or keyboard, paper or display screen? What are the reasons for your choice?

Now that I think about, I have another reason for using a pen. If I didn’t, I couldn’t very well call myself—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

December 8, 2013Permalink