I’m in a funk. Enough of a funk that I can’t even bring myself to type this right now. I am writing it in cursive on a loose leaf of paper with a great pen because writing longhand has always made me feel better. In fact, I suspect I wouldn’t have kept at writing my book very long if it weren’t for the fact that the first drafts were written by pen.
I stopped that practice in my second year of university, but of course I had my laptop by then and it was just easier with all of the changes I was making in the story at the time. I didn’t make the decision to stop lightly, though.
When it comes to different methods of writing a book, there are as many ways as there are writers. V. E. Schwab comes up with an ending first, and then will write scenes out of order, working to write the scene she feels most strongly about at any given time. Stephen King on the other hand starts with an idea and that’s enough for him to start writing, typing at his typewriter every morning until he completes 2000 words, and where the story may go os as much a surprise to him as anyone. J. K. Rowling famously spent seven years planning out all the details of the Harry Potter universe before the first book came out. Brandon Sanderson wll know the end, know several points throughout that he wants to hit, plan out exactly how he will hit those points, and then try to write it all out as perfectly as possible his first go so as to minimize the amount of rewriting he has to do. (I should add a disclaimer here: I’ve never read a book by Sanderson and the only King book I’ve read was “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”.)
My writing methods have changed over the years. The author whose methods mine most closely resemble in my natural writing state is Neil Gaiman, I think, although our produced works are so different. He states that he writes novels longhand and screenplays on screen. (For the record, I can’t imagine anyone writing a screenplay longhand. Even before computers were everywhere, typewriters were the norm. Longhand just doesn’t lend itself to the format easily.)
Apparently, young Gaiman would write between 8pm and 5am. Me? Well, it’s 2:59am as I write this. He’ll write his first drafts by hand with a fountain pen in a notebook. I used to do exactly this. My fountain pens were disposable because real ones intimidated me and still do, so they’ve all been, well, disposed of, but I still have the notebooks (in fact, you can spot them in this short film I made with my siblings).
The way Gaiman thinks of writing is similar to my thinking, too. He’s talked about how writing longhand forces him to think through each sentence, which was the number one reason why I continued to write longhand for two years after getting my laptop. I found typing was faster, and that meant a lot of stopping to let my brain catch up to my hands. I think this relates to Gaiman’s elief that writing blocks don’t exist. When you write longhand, you have the time to think up the next sentence before you reach the end of the current one, so it’s easy to keep going and going. And when Gaiman did need a break from a novel, he’d just switch to another one—something else I used to do.
As you can tell, my old writing process was very similar to Gaiman’s, but things are different now. These days, I plot my stories with point-form lists, I write a couple thousand words a month compared to what used to be daily word additions, these days often going weeks or even months without writing. It’s all done on my laptop which in truth has its perks, especially if you’re a Creative Writing student in university with a novel and four other writing assignments with technical specifications and upcoming due dates. I will spend weeks on a scene only to delete it and try again when I used to write my first drafts with wild abandon and never looked back.
Now I’m here five years after I stopped writing longhand, having changed so much of how I write and without a single complete draft to show for it. For comparison, I finished three first drafts in the five years before that, between when I started writing at fourteen and when I stopped writing longhand by giving up on a fourth story mid-chapter in uni.
So where did I go wrong?
Well, I think it’s important to note that when I was writing in a way sp similar to Mr. Gaiman’s methods, I had no idea. I didn’t think anyone else wrote like I did, and I wrored that I might be doing it wrong. So I started making changes, incremental changes, that I ultimately did not necessarily need to make. I only needed to adapt my methods to my situation, particularly in university. In short, by thinking I was wrong, I was wrong.
There was more to this thought than just looking around, however. I tried to type up my completed handwritten draft when I first finished it which was when I first noticed that it was shit. It was shit, but maybe not from writing longhand—maybe it was shit because it was my first ever draft of my first ever novel and I was fifteen when I wrote it. I gave up writing that last longhand novel draft because it was the fourth in a series and I was simultaneously writing and rewriting the first few chapters of the first book and so muchhad changed that nothing I wrote in the fourth book made sense anymore. Fair enough, but again that may have been inexperience, this time combined with the tribulations of typing my stories.
The plotting was kind of nice, and I can definitely see myself figuring future stories out on paper before I begin writing them, but I have to release myself on the expectation to follow the planned plot. On my current draft which I had two typed pages of plot points for, I was able to use the planned plot once when I didn’t know what to write next. Once. The next time I checked my plan for help, I realized I had deviated too much for it to help me. It was obsolete. I tried to force my story in the direction I had outlined, but ultimately that just isn’t how I work and I finally dropped it.
I’ve definitely fallen into some pantser traps, too, however. When I wrote without a plot panned out, I was too open to suggestion. I mean, of course I was, I was a teenager with no experience as a writer. I loved to share my work—that’s one thing that hasn’t changed—and I didn’t know how to tell the difference between good and bad feedback. I changed things I should’ve left alone due to one offhand comment and story suggestions would for whatever reason cause my brain to stop producing words (I noticed this particularly on my screenplays). Pantsing a story can also produce less structured and more rambling stories, which I took as bad writing and a waste of time. Rather than learning to edit down, I tried to write less. These were pitfalls that were common for pantsers and possible to overcome with practice, but I didn’t know that. I thought my early work sucked because of my methods so I changed them, and now I barely write at all.
Well, my mom bought a bunch of notebooks the other day. They were fifty cents for two-hundred pages, and now they’re just sitting there downstairs, waiting to be filled. I think I’m going to try going back to my roots and write this current draft by hand for a while. It will be difficult to get used to, time-consuming, interesting, and painful as my sore hand is eager to remind me as I write this. It will be harder to update my word count on my blog and Twitter, but easier to look back at all my changes. And who knows? It could be what’s right for me.