Saturday, January 06, 2007

writers on longhand

“Anyone can become a writer. The trick is staying a writer.”
Harlan Ellison.

For five months I’ve been driving back and forth between every furniture store in Western Washington, who BTW, all carry the same ugly, unstylish desks in the same limited six colors. But enough’s enough. I made a snap decision. “That one!” I told the sales clerk. “Let’s order it now … book someone to come out and put it together now … before I change my mind.” (Again.)

I wanted Manhattan loft-style, Parisian chic, with a touch of LA smooch. What I ended up with was … well … what I ended up with.

A week later the ‘new desk’ is all set up. LCD in place, speaker phone at the perfect angle, low lamp and high lamp directed to optimize mood and light. Necessary ‘bits’ tucked neatly in drawers. And a mug full of imported English Ginger Beer spitting bubbles at my fingertips.

And now, oh you’ve guessed it. I have nothing to say. Nada. Rien. Niente. Nichts.

Looking for inspiration I grab one of hundreds of books from a shelf.

“Write about what you know”, it says. Hmmm, today that feels like nothing. Nada. Rien … oh here we go again.

“Write about your family”, it says. Errr, that’s a definite no. Won’t risk my brother reciprocating by posting ‘ugly-big-sis’ pictures on his photo-blog.

“Write about the horizon”, it says. Could do, but it’s pitch black outside. So I can see nothing. Nada … rien …

Still uninspired, I blame my new desk. (Doesn’t every bad workman blame his tools?) And then I remember an interview I did several years ago with movie writer and novelist, Gerald Di Pego, and decide instead, to blame my computer.

Di Pego wrote over 30 screenplays in 30 years, achieving massive Hollywood recognition and multi-million dollar paycheck status with the movies Phenomenon, Instinct, The Forgotten. But he always—as in always—wrote his screenplays and novels longhand, using the same brand of pen and notepad.

Neil Simon wrote his plays longhand using a fountain pen and extra long legal pads, all of which he brought back from England.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, told me he too wrote longhand; again, using pens and extra-long legal pads from England.

According to legend, J. K. Rowling drafted the beginnings of the Harry Potter series on napkins in a Scottish coffee shop. And Erma Bombeck apparently got her start by scribbling longhand in the back of her station wagon (that she drove around the corner to escape her kids).

Each of them had their own reasons for writing longhand. Neil Simon said he simply never got on with typewriters, word processors, PCs; he felt technology hindered the creative aspect of writing. Peters, being Peters, wouldn’t give his reasons, even when I asked him directly.

But Di Pego spoke from his heart when he patted my hand and told me to write from my heart.

He believes that writing longhand encourages free-flow from the mind to the heart to the page. He feels it more personal, more allowing, more expressive.

I agree, there’s something instantly freeing about gliding pen and ink across a clean page. Something close to excitement about opening a blank book; the salivating anticipation of a new beginning.

My hastily scribbled morning pages are always hand written using the same emotionally selected A4-size journals, and one of two hand-crafted pens that were both gifts. I always brainstorm new projects and longer features using large sketchbooks and smooth wall-mounted whiteboards. But write an assignment, let alone a play or manuscript longhand? I would never meet a deadline!

How about you ... do you ever write longhand? If so, why, when, and where?


Anonymous said...

because I'm not a writer... I don't count. But... I'll still weigh in.

notes in longhand
brainstorming on the computer

my thoughts take off and longhand just won't keep up.

Anonymous said...

I only write poetry, journal entries (private), and scribblings in my idea notebooks by hand. The computer is much more forgiving to my tendonitis than pen and paper, even though I use Waterman pens (they're wonderful...I wouldn't write even what I do by hand without them). I think better with a keyboard under my fingers.


andrea said...

I spent years writing longhand and loved it but I can't do it now. I need the speed of the keyboard to keep up with my brilliant brain... But seriously, I have such a problem with losing my train of thought that if I were to use pen and paper I'd never finish a sentence! :) I'm also a compulsive self-editor and again love that aspect of the computer. I have found it incredibly freeing.

That said, there's nothing I like more than writing/drawing implements and papers/surfaces. I loved shopping for school supplies as a child.

One more thing re. writer's block as I believe it's much the same as artist's block: the more I paint the more ideas I get. I need to work consistently to not lose that momentum. There's a lot of wisdom in just putting one foot in front of the other.

Bibi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bibi said...

Pamela, of course you count!! I agree on the thoughts taking off, and the hand not being able to keep up. Seems to be a common issue with most people.

Yazza, why poetry? Is it that whole mind to heart to hand theory of Di Pego's?

Andrea, I too would miss that train if I did everything longhand! And I also love shopping for 'work supplies' (just not the desk).

I believe you're absolutely right about 'blocks'; you need to keep putting one foot in front of the other ... just start dabbling and before you know what's happened, something's come together. Some people tell me they have to wait until they're in the mood. But deadlines drive most of my work; and if I waited for the mood, or the muse to strike, I'd be a hungry lass. ;-)

mist1 said...

Somethings just need to be written in longhand. I'm not sure what they are because I can't read my writing, but it was important that I write them out at the time.

Ces Adorio said...

Bibi, I write a lot of emails, quick and convenient, BUT to my family and friends I write letters written in 14 karat gold-nibbed fountain pen or rollerball pen. Sometimes I use calligraphic fonts. In fact I was just talking about this in my latest post (is this a shameless plug? but I mentioned the fountain pen). This weekend I read some of the letters written to me by my sisters in beautiful penmanship. I see the penstrokes and felt so special. The email is fast, clear and convenient but there is nothing more special than touching the same paper that someone you love laid their their hands on to write you a letter.

Anonymous said...

Why poetry? Because poetry, for me, is the journey into nights prowling under the moon in the deep, dark, forest...of afternoons sitting on the edge of the inlet listening to the waves call me to join them...of evenings sitting in a coffee shop, trying to figure out why the music they're playing catapults me back to when I was 18 and drinking too much wine at wannabe-artsy parties and wondering how long it would take me to make it as a writer. Poetry is the land in which I prowl one step at a time through the mists, searching for something that's probably right there in front of me already.


kj said...

hi bibi, i have recently begun writing letters and cards to my best friend and soulmate because she enjoys them. i like the pen and paper, but i also like the look of the envelope. i ususally add little stickers for pazzzz.

i save letters written to me from people i love. years later, i am transported back, and it's always great.


Anonymous said...

This is decidedly unartistic of me...

But I actually find that my language is most fluid at the keyboard. These days when I try to write longhand, I'm much more likely to find myself stymied and blocked.

After 30 years of writing, creating from my fingertips feels more natural than from a gripped pen.

Even my personal letters are more heartfelt, more creative when I type them.

I'll never be Hemmingway, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I have about 50 "one subject-college ruled spiraled notebooks" that contain everything I've ever written (and hoped to publish or sell).

I guess it started as a kid, it was all I had, and as I got older, it just didn't feel right to sit down at a typewriter or computer and start pecking away.

I feel much more comfortable scribbling my new short story or poem or screenplay in one of these notebooks and when it's finished I start the typing process (which also helps as a reread and edit phase, though there are several more of those afterwards).

Friends and family have always asked me why I do it this way, isn't it more time consuming. My answer....

it's the only way I know how to do it.

Anonymous said...

My creative writing goes best straight onto the keyboard, I think because I try to bang out the lines and the flow of the narrative or whatever in as quick and as instinctive way as possible. As soon as I feel myself having to "work" at a piece, I know it's just going to turn out all laboured and crap.

However, in an ironic twist, I really have to write out my computer programs long-hand on pen and paper before typing them up. In fact, typing them up and compiling them is the absolute last part of the process - I'll go over the logic of the program again and again on paper to make sure I've weeded out all the errors. Strange that the technology demands this process of me - I think it's because it's tapping into a very different and logical part of my brain.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day when typing meant ribbons and white out on my Sears Electric, I used to write only in longhand because I wasn't a good typist and all the mistakes drove me nuts. Now, it's just the opposite. I write my morning pages as you do with pen and paper, but I find when I'm doing real writing that my pen can't keep up with my head and before long the words become illegible!

I hope your new desk grows on you a little bit, and doesn't "jinx" the muse :)

Keshi said...

I love hand-written letters and cards. They r the BEST. And I still write em to my friends overseas. And I have a bunch of hand-written letters to me from my Granma..they r as precious as gold.


Deirdre said...

There seems to be a difference in my writing when I write longhand. The experience is more soulful, the stories more magical. I've only begun using the computer since discovering blogging and need to make sure I allow myself time to sit in a corner with pen and paper. It's when the story voice speaks most clearly.

Bibi said...

mist1,I have the same issue with my handwriting ;-)

kj, I absolutely love to receive letters. I don't send them very often, but I send a lot of note cards (with stickers of course!).

mystic wing, you never know, I believe Hemingway was a typewriter man ... so he'd most likely use a keyboard today ...

ces, I'm with you on handwritten letters, although I get too impatient to write them now. I cheat and use a hand-style font... that's tacky isn't it?

Bibi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bibi said...

Kiyotoe, wow, I'm impressed that you have all your notebooks. And it seems you're in excellent company with writing longhand!

Ant, interesting about writing out your programs longhand. And yes, when you're on a roll, a keyboard allows words to pour out more quickly.

becca, the only typewriter I ever liked was the red and yellow plastic one I had for Christmas when I was 7. I'm very fond of my wireless keyboard though. And yes, thank you ... love the desk now ;-)

keshi, I'm sure they love to get them as much as you love to send them ;-0

deidre, the soulful/heart speak aspect of hand writing your work definitely works for you!

yaz, again, the heart/hand thing seems to speak to a lot of writers.

This is all very interesting and next time I get stuck, maybe I'll try handwriting ... assuming I can read it back ;-)

WithinWithout said...

Rarely use long-hand, Bibi, except when at work just to jot down notes, usually reminders.

I'm not saying it's a good thing. I think handwriting is so much more personal and because it's so labour-intensive, brings us closer to whatever it is we're writing about.

The tap-tap on the computer keyboard, while so much quicker and easier, is less personal.

I do regret I don't do more handwriting. I do. Not doing it makes everything less personal, less intimate.

And that's not a good thing.

Bibi said...

within without, it is more much personal/intimate to hand write isn't it. Sometimes I almost go into a trance-like state at the keyboard ... not sure if that's good or not (?)

Anonymous said...

I never write longhand unless I'm somewhere that I HAVE to (no electricity, etc). When that happens, I'm surprised how easy it actually is. You just get right to it, no problem.

I am a big doodler though. I totally doodle long hand.

Ces Adorio said...

No Bibi, any hand font is beautiful. I love writing letters. I admit I have written so many letters in long-hand that because of its process, I get to review it more often and more thoroughly that I end up tearing it up because I have a change of heart. I also love beautiful pens so they go along together. With email it is easy to click on the Send button. Email is very impatient.

Bibi said...

michele, doodling is good!

ces, I agree, the pen selection is very personal ;-)

MSU gal said...

Thank you for this post!

I love to write longhand. I still write all my daily work notes in longhand.

I love Christmas cards that have notes written by hand.

I have saved old letters from my grandmother and other family members that were written in longhand and loveletters from old boyfriends.

I love to read the longhand of others. Their personlities are dotted, crossed and swirled on the page!

Bibi said...

msugal86, I'm so glad the art of handwriting is still appreciated. I have long-saved letters too and although I don't read them often, they totally transport me when I do.

Anonymous said...

I hope you read this. :)
I'm starting to write stories.
I asked a well known author about this. She and some of the authors she know use a word processor because its most efficient for her purposes. It bugs me a lot and It shows a lot of errors. I find that it gets in my way. I find myself going back to edit a letter I missed or the grammar line that pops up often:)
With paper, Its only what I put down. Sure I can turn that off but I still find myself trying to backup what I written using a usb flash drive. I have two well known word processors crash on me a few times. It bugs me so much. I just said screw it. I will use paper and pen. When I start the second draft. It will be on a computer. I want a stable Mac computer instead of windows.
I find myself taken time off writing just so I can check up on the news because its there on the computer I'm using.
I'm 23 and have problems staying focus. I'm active and easily bored. With paper, all of this goes alway, or just about.
I use what works best for me.
Hard Drive crash is something that will kill me.
hmmmmm, I love the smell of fresh paper and I love to just take that final look of the day that shows how much I written (not typed.
I hope you go longhanded:)
Technology is good but it can suck.


Bibi said...

Oh good for you ... doing what works for you! I back up like crazy because I've had similar experiences, like finalizing a script for Real Player and then my system crashed and I lost it all!!!

Ketutar said...

I write with all the tools one can write with :-D So, yes, occasionally I write with pen on paper;-)

Because it was the most convenient choice at the moment.
Because I enjoy the act of writing for hand.
Because I enjoy the look of my handwriting.
Also, because I sometimes illustrate my ideas, by drawing, and then I write some notes by the picture. Sometimes it gets longer than just notes, and then I write around the picture, and all over the picture, on every free space on the paper, on every direction, and both sides... and even between the lines. :-D You just can't do that with a computer.

When? Any time. Usually when I'm traveling. I have a laptop, but it weights a ton (still) and I don't like carrying it around.

Where? Anywhere. In buses and trains, in my bed, on the sofa... I haven't been sitting in a café writing, nor by the kitchen table... I'm one of the bed-writers :-D