Pen and Ink

I talk a lot here about my process of writing. Partially because I'm still early career, and so I'm still figuring out exactly what my process is (or at least what it is right now), and partially as a way of sharing those experiences with other people starting out in the field - writing can feel less lonely when you have proof that you're not the only one who can get multiple rejection letters in a week, or who has days where it seems like the only words you write are the wrong ones. And usually when I talk about process, I talk about how I survive those things, and then pick up my pen the next day.

But since it has been a question very frequently asked of late, today I am going to talk about the fact that when I say "pick up my pen the next day" I mean that literally.

Yes, gentle reader, I write by hand. Preferably onto a moleskine notebook (soft cover, largest size, unlined) very nearly always with a fountain pen (I have a couple of different kinds, and since I have minuscule handwriting, fine nib.) I write my first drafts by hand - even of my dissertation and my other academic writing. When it comes time to revise, I print out a copy, and make my revisions by hand.

Why, in this age of technological ease and the wonder of Scrivener do I do this? I do it for the only reason a writer ought to adhere to any part of her process: this is what works best for me.

Writing by hand helps me think - I hear the characters' voices better, and I have a better feel for the shape of the story. I cannot explain why this is, I only know that it is true. In fact, the very few (seriously, count on one hand and have fingers left over few) times I have ever drafted onto the computer have been stories or scenes that I knew I'd back down from writing if I thought about them too much in the initial draft.

I use a fountain pen generally because I like the feel of the physical act of writing with one, and because I have a weird thing about using particular colors of ink for particular projects. Fountain pens offer the greatest variety of colors (I particularly love J. Herbin ink) and when I'm using a regular pen I like the Sakura gelly rolls for the same reasons - I like the feel of writing with it, and there's a good range of colors.

First drafts (what I tend to call draft zero) go in notebooks, and only on one side of the page - I leave the opposite blank in case I need to insert text, or so I have a place to stick the post its on which I write notes to myself about things I need to think about or change when I revise. The writing doesn't go into the computer until I have a complete draft (short story) or until I've changed enough of what I've written that I need to reorganize and check in with my story before I can move forward (usually about 1/3 of the way into the zero draft of a novel). Then I revise on the print outs.

Usually when I talk about handwriting, I get the "wouldn't it be easier to just do it on the computer the first time?" question, quickly followed by "how do you save your data?" Well, no, it wouldn't be easier, not for me, to compose on the computer. I've tried, particularly after the shoulder injury that meant choosing between my fencing career and my writing one. And the transfer between notebook and computer also serves as my first edit, so I'm not really adding an extra step for myself. As for saving data, well, yes, if my house catches on fire before I get the story out of the notebook and into the computer, then I have some problems. But otherwise, it's pretty safe.

And I'll close like I always do: my process is mine. It works for me. If it didn't, I would change it, because the how I write is much less important than the actually getting the words on the page.