Monday, July 7, 2008

The Writing Process--from pen to processor

This weekend I was separated from my laptop and internet by this pesky little national holiday business. You know, family, fireworks, parades, and BBQ's. I thought perhaps it would be a little rude to haul the computer along, with its dead battery and yards of power cord, and spend the weekend chatting to people in between scenes, my fingers tapping away. So I left it at home, all alone with its thoughts about being replaced as soon as the new one I ordered on Thursday arrives.

I couldn't leave my novel behind, though. It is too insistent, too close to the surface, just begging me to write it. So I brought my little pink notebook with the metallic butterflies on the cover, and I brought my green clicky pen with the rubber grips (whose two drawbacks--low ink supply and the word "profile" on this side, which my brain keeps reading as "prolife"--I compensated for by bringing a back up pen or three), and I tried to only write in it when nobody was looking. Yeah, right. One whole side of my hand was green from the speed with which I was racing across the page while the ink was still wet.

This is how I used to write, before I had a computer. It hasn't been that long, in fact, that I bought my very first computer, a Mac G-4 named Calliope that is still (until sometime this week when my new laptop arrives) the only computer I actually own. There is a compartment in the middle of the beautiful antique dresser that my grandma gave me, a "secret" cubby that is currently filled to the top with all my journals, since at least the second half of college. I like the way words flow out onto paper, with a smooth pen and just the right journal. Most of my writing has had its start in one of these little books, and all of my writing has pilfered bits and pieces from their pages, whether or not they were intended for the work.

Now, my process has evolved to reflect the speed of my fingers dancing across the keyboard, my ideas making their way into this world in an interesting hybrid of pen and processor, with most first drafts spiraling between my scribbled notes and manic typing. Poetry is almost always penned; fiction springs up from a handwritten beginning and takes off in my computer. This new novel comes to me in such a steady stream that I have taken to carrying my little notebook everywhere I go--from bathroom to bed--and I pour out these interrupted bits of story from wherever I am. Then, as soon as I'm near the computer again, I type it up (often making improvements and revisions as I do) and continue on from there.

Revising on the computer is so easy that some writers find themselves saving multiple copies of their work, afraid to change or delete something they later will want to find back. This is one thing that a handwritten draft avoids. In my notebook, each revision is clearly present, with words crossed out and added in, sentences winding like stray hairs across the page, little stars or arrows moving paragraphs from place to place. It's messy, but it's organic. It feels real. On the computer, my draft looks so confident and down-to-business with all that messiness invisible, hidden from even myself. On the computer, I revise fearlessly--cutting, hacking, and embellishing without using the "save as." It's quick, and it's dirty, but ultimately it leads me to "The End."

And then I go back to the beginning and do it all over again.

1 comment:

Shana said...

I honestly can't imagine how anyone did anything before the internet. I know that sounds dumb, but I just think of how difficult it would be to say, find directions to some off the wall place without Mapquest. I use Google constantly throughout each day! I don't think I could live without it now that I have had it for so long.