Will Write For Chocolate: Old School Writing

2014-06-07-WWFCpowerout-WUB-v2-500

I know some of you write by hand on a regular basis, but I’ve gotten very used to my keyboard. Just recently, however, I’ve started purposely writing in an old-fashioned paper notebook from time to time. I find that there’s something liberating about being able to brainstorm new story ideas on paper, plus it gives me freedom to scribble and doodle along the way. What about the rest of you? Do you do most of your writing on the computer? Do you keep a paper notebook?

For other Will Write For Chocolate strips, please see WillWriteForChocolate.com.

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About Debbie Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. Recent illustration projects for Simon & Schuster Children's include books by Judy Blume and Michael Ian Black. Her blog for children's book writers & illustrators: Inkygirl.com. On Twitter: @inkyelbows

Comments

  1. says

    Definitely! I have a little lined notebook with me wherever I go. Not one to rely on a smart phone or tablet because what would happen to my brilliant ideas if the power runs out? MY power never seems to run out, so the paper and pen has to stay handy to capture the thoughts, feelings and connections that may become ever-so-necessary in the future. I know, it’s old-fashioned and self-absorbed, but a lined notebook tucked in my purse is simply a guilty pleasure and a cheap thrill that cannot be replaced.

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    • says

      I agree, Mia! Not having to worry about power running around is one of the big advantages of a paper notebook over electronic note-taking.

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    • says

      Heh. And I really do find that my hand cramps up when I write for more than a few minutes. I used to have good handwriting in the old pre-keyboard days. Now? Not so legible…

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    • says

      Thanks for your feedback, Carol. I’m not sure if I could do an entire first draft longhand, but I’m definitely experimenting with doing bits and pieces by hand.

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  2. says

    Hi Debbie!

    I can relate to you. I followed the same progression. The first two manuscripts I wrote were by hand. I think I had to do that just to convince myself I could do it (previous attempts at the computer failed because I kept going back to fix the beginning, or playing Spider Solitaire).

    The next time I tried I decided to write an outline by hand. I made small pages for the settings, characters, and plot points. I persevered and, one year later, had another novel – this one held together much better, though I’ve been revising it since January (boy, does it need a lot of work).

    Nonetheless, what I’ve found is having the hand-written notes and the freedom to take a tangent into my profiles, rather than in my manuscript (or, worse, writing a weak scene because I’m stuck for how to add depth), has allowed me to produce richer prose. Revision, then, isn’t about rewriting and hoping things will work out, but is more about tweaking (and, might I add, lots and lots and lots of patience).

    I love my hand-written notes, and I think I will keep doing this. Right now, since I write epic fantasy, these notes are getting too big – I will soon be investing in a filing cabinet to keep them organized. I devised a system to do it all in Excel, but there’s something about the freedom of writing by hand that cannot be matched by a computer. I haven’t quite figured that one out. Maybe it’s because I get to draw maps and settings on a whim. Maybe it’s because I like playing card games and my 6×4 profile sheets makes me feel like writing time is a live action role playing game. Whatever it is, it works, and I keep coming back to the computer each day looking forward to what surprises await.

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    • says

      Thanks for making so many great points. Intriguing that writing notes by hand has helped you produce richer prose. So great that you’re keeping all your notes, too!

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  3. Sheila says

    I keep a small 3-ring binder, one of the 8 x 9 ones, for story journaling–plot ideas, notes on character, Reminders to Self about things that can’t get lost along the way, etc.–but I have to draft right on the computer. My handwriting is too slow to keep up with my brain when a scene is really cooking. Besides, somehow I need to see it on the virtual page to help me pace dialogue, for instance: a longish block of text with no white space to relieve it probably means that somebody is talking too much. :)

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    • says

      I have the same issue — I write too slowly to keep up with my brain, which is why I’m not sure if I could handle doing a full first draft by hand.

      Heh, and good tip re: dialogue pacing!

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  4. says

    Like C.G.Blake, I am humiliated by my own hopeless chicken-scratching. My wife used to be able to translate for me what I’d written, but not anymore. Still, I carry a small notebook, and from time to time this has turned out to be valuable. As for “will write for chocolate,” make that “will write for Maker’s Mark or Dewer’s,” and I’m in.

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  5. says

    I write most everything by hand first…at least to begin a scene. If I am under a stressful deadline, I will write via computer, but once the words dry up there, it’s easier to go back to the fountain pen and paper and get some new ones down.

    My hands hurt these days, so now I write on paper and I am trying Dragon as a method for getting the words into the computer. I am a far faster typist at this point than Dragon is an interpreter, so it’s a frustrating system, but I hear that once you get it working, you can speed right along.

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    • says

      I use Dragon Dictate on the Mac sometimes, or at least I used to. I think it’s good for first drafts, but the editing process can be time-consuming!

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  6. says

    I enjoyed this, Debbie. I, too, returned to hand-writing in a funky college-ruled notebook this summer, and am LOVING it. I prepare the pages ahead of time by scribbling color and inks and marker patterns around the edges and in the margins. Sometimes just all over the pages.

    These colorful pages invite me in for these super lovely freewriting sessions, sitting on my screened porch, with a glas of iced tea. Frankly, it’s the BEST part of my day, something I look forward to, of course.

    But the BEST benefit is how much it’s opened up a creative vein in me. It takes me back to when I first started writing after discovering Natalie Goldberg’s process of writing in notebooks in a similar fashion. Thanks for the comics. Always, Debra

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  7. says

    I love your strip- it always gives me a chuckle and has me saying, “Yes, this!” Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

    I took up journaling at the beginning of the year. It’s helped me through a few tough times and actually helped me quit smoking three months ago.

    I do a lot of my brainstorming by hand and decided to write the “zero” draft of a new book by hand. So far, I love it. I always keep a notebook around, or at the very least, carry an index card in my pocket. My muse seems to like the new habit. :-)

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  8. says

    Loved the cartoon. It reminded me of how spoiled we get with each new invention. When I went from a manual typewriter to electric, I thought I was in heaven. Then came the computer and printers – wowzer! I didn’t have to try to type 400 pages and have them come out neat. The printer just spit them out. Well, actually, those earliest continuous-feed printers didn’t exactly spit them out. That was more like a day-long grind to print 400 pages. But that was okay. I could go do laundry while the printer did its work.

    To answer your question. I do often write longhand in a notebook. I may start a scene that way, then move to the computer to finish. I also like to keep a notebook with, well, notes about the story, the characters, research information, and random bits of “stuff” that may or may not end up in a book.

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  9. says

    For years I’ve kept a hand-written journal, almost a stream-of-consciousness take on the day, or days, just gone by. It’s a luxury of time I can’t always allow myself, because it has to take place when I’m all alone and in a reflective frame of mind. It’s usually with my first cup of coffee in the morning, looking out at the landscape, either from my old oak desk, or the wood table on the sundeck.

    My novels, however, are written at my keyboard. Much less time consuming, because I can easily and cleanly edit, delete, move and re-edit during the writing process. It’s not unusual for me to search for previous passages in my novel using the “Find” feature so I can add to or edit, or just refer to, something previously written.

    Chocolate? For me, the biggest motivator to ‘git ‘er done’ is to give myself the afternoon off to got play outside.

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  10. says

    Debbie, as a lifelong doodler, I’ve never been without a notebook. I just started a new notebook and immediately had to rip pages out … remembering how much I love my delete key. I fiddle-fart around in my notebooks and even though I throw them out eventually, they’re great for processing my jumbled thoughts. Once I make a new document file on the computer, I have a pretty good idea of what direction the manuscript will go.

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  11. says

    Debbie, my penmanship is right in line with all the jokes about the way doctors write. If I had to write in longhand, I’d never write. I depend on my computer for almost everything except signing my checks–still got to do that by hand. As for the “delete” key? Well, let’s say that on my keyboard it’s got a lot more smudges on it than anything except “e” and “i.” Thanks for sharing your humor.

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  12. says

    Like many others here I still write in the old-school style, in longhand for my first drafts. Only later, when I can no longer read all the crossed out words and inserts do I go to the computer. I write on big yellow, lined pads and use a ballpoint pen because it moves quickly when the ideas start to flow. I just have never been able to be as creative on the computer, although I love all the things I can do once the manuscript is on the screen in front of me. As for the notebook, I’m never without one. It’s for writing down overheard conversations, random ideas, and things that I must catch before they’re lost forever.

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  13. says

    I only rarely write or scribble anything on paper these days. I’d love to keep a paper journal, but decades of pounding the keyboard for a living have made writing more than a paragraph or two very painful for me, and of course my penmanship has suffered as well. I also find using voice recognition software very helpful and write that way sometimes, too, but mostly to hash out ideas, and then refine it with typing later.

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  14. says

    I end up needing to write on the computer. I’m a pure pantser (no outline, no idea what happens next), so I don’t get ideas in any kind of order. The result is that the story can come together in pieces — easy to do on a computer, non-existent by hand.

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  15. says

    I have notebooks filled with stories from grade school through last week. I’ve spent years moving back and forth between handwriting and my laptop, training my muse to operate with the same natural flow with either approach. I compare it to reading a book to yourself and reading it aloud. Your own voice – well, mine anyway – can become a gnarly interference that makes great words sound clumsy and forced.

    My morning epiphanies are always handwritten as I can retain that fugue state when only having to grab pen and paper. The switch to keyboard demands a different set of brain cells that seem to alert the others, like ‘coffee’ ‘go pee’ ‘breakfast’ etc.

    This has always made me wonder if the keyboard would be as natural as the pen/pencil if I had learned it at the same tender age? Can’t go back to find out – but am pretty suspicious about it. :)

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  16. says

    Basically, I write on a computer but whenever I get stuck, I turn to pen and paper. Almost always solves the problem. Then I transfer the handwritten draft to the digital manuscript and continue on the keyboard.

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  17. says

    I mainly use a computer, but on occasion I whip out the mechanical graphite. Sometimes it’s easier to brainstorm notebook style, other times I don’t feel like carry my laptop- pencil and paper to the rescue.

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  18. says

    Paper all the way, Mia. I’ve written four novels and for each one, I buy a BIG 5-subject notebook (the kind I had in high school) and I free-write each new scene to get the creative juices flowing. Whatever I like and fits, I transfer that over to my laptop.

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  19. Poeticus says

    My handwriting is uninterpretable before it’s cold, even for me. Has been since grammar school, since I learned to write: aspiring, beginning, bungling, bumbling writer, you know. Teachers believed I was stupid because my writing was messy. Grade A papers marked B or C or worse because they were sloppy writing, no matter how much I tried. Gold stars and A’s for classroom responses and participation and tests and quizzes though. How can it be that this ignorant student isn’t stupid, is actually among if not the gifted brightest? My hands didn’t work right, less so now as the wrist joints have deteriorated.

    Praise Providence for the typewriter and papers required typewritten starting in high school, some. And teachers less concerned about penmanship anyway and more about appeal, expression, content and organization, and grammar style.

    Because I can’t read my own writing most of the time, unless carefully lined out in rigid block letters or use a shorthand notes highlight outline strategy developed as a coping mechanism, my mental composition and memory skills took up the slack, take up the slack.

    My creative writing development suffered from poor penmanship making a mess of a pure blank page I couldn’t comprehend. I was attracted to the typewriter, of course, and absolutely fascinated by printmaking technologies, a print shop lab in high school, jobs in the publishing industry, and, of course, wordprocessors and computers. I sat on my hands, watched, waited, hoped one day technology could satisfy my creative writing desires. The day came . . .

    I do have a trunk filled with legal pad and notebook journals of inspirations, sketches, anecdotes, vignettes, exercises, plot summaries and explanations–artless tells–all excruciatingly attempted legibility. Not until circa 1996 did computer technology come of age enough for my sensibilities, not until 2003 did technology begin to meet my expectations, not until 2013 did all the cosmos come together–technology, appeals to audience, expression creativity, content and organization craft, and grammar and rhetoric style developments–to form a glorious synergistic symphony synthesis.

    I still carry and use a pocket-sized notebook (a hand-tooled leather pocket protector binder) and a digital recorder, though mental composition is still my first, foremost, middle, and last resort before I sit my backside before the pure blank page, ambitiously struggling to glorify the pure blank page with suitably artful prose. Having experienced writing from fountain pen and pencil technology, along came ballpoint pens, scratches in dirt and scribed clay tablets too, lead type and intaglio engraving, photo compositor, IBM Selectric composition, wordprocessor, and at last personal computer desktop publishing, I have come of age as a writer in the Digital Age.

    I feel blessed to have experienced all that the written word has for potentials–technology-wise. Can technology actually alter such that written word goes the way of extinction? Other technology may come along, but the written word at least as emulation of aural tradition is eternal. I pray I may live and write such that the technology inspires, directs, and deserves, perhaps evolves new meanings for the times from the times. Not a writer before my time, not after my time, a writer of my times.

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  20. Judith Coopy says

    I picked up a particular size journal in Sept 1984 when I began to write and have recently begun #118 in the same size. I have about 75 inches of journals which makes things easier to find since they are all cataloged by section in a journal I call #0. In fact, even all of my bags and purses are chosen to fit that size [3 section/150 pages (9 .5 x 6)]. I did not have a PC back then and ultimately became quite PC literate, but daily writing seems impossible without pen and paper.
    Judith

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  21. says

    Fantastic cartoon and anything with the word chocolate will instantly draw my attention!
    I use both but mainly computer. However there is nothing quite like writing in a gorgeous notebook. Sudden ideas are on scraps of paper but they tend to lose themselves.

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  22. says

    I honestly don’t know how people can write using a keyboard. I know we’re all different and we all find different techniques useful, but using a computer to do anything other than transcribe the work I’ve already done is a totally alien concept for me.

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  23. Judith Coopy says

    Sherry, you mentioned “scraps of paper,” well I used scraps of paper until it was time to get serious. I felt that God was saying to me, after trying to read what I had written on small pieces of paper the notes from a retreat, “get a new notebook!” I went up to our den/spare room and found the kind of notebook I still use today.
    Judith

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  24. says

    All my life, I believed I couldn’t write because I’d type a paragraph, then the editor would kick in and I’d start revising, never getting past the initial paragraph. Then one dark and stormy night (well, it was mostly dark and I’m pretty sure it was raining) my computer wouldn’t work and I was forced to write with pencil and paper. Lo and behold, the writing flowed! I discovered that the organic nature of writing connects me to my full creativity,a connection that isn’t there in the same way when I type. The mechanics of typing appear to put me firmly in my left brain, in editor mode. It’s great once the manuscript is written and I begin to edit, but the original creation only happens with pencil (pens would be messy, I need the eraser) and paper. I can’t walk past the notebooks at the store without stopping to gaze at them, the way some people gaze at fashions or power tools. I associate them with the giddiness of being in the flow–it makes me happy just to look at them. Strange, but true.

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  25. says

    Mostly, I write on the computer now but I always keep a small notebook beside me or in my pocket for those random thoughts that occur.
    Enjoy your Write for Chocolate!

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  26. says

    When I was in high school, I wrote 300-page novels by hand all the time. I went through so many black gel pens that one year for Christmas it was the only thing in my stocking! I did most of my writing in class then, and it was the only way – no laptops in school then. When I went to college for writing, I had to switch to computer writing for practicality. I miss writing by hand. It seems to work much better with the creative process.

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  27. says

    I keep a notebook plus old-fashioned note cards in my handbag. I never leave home without them. I also have Post-Its on my desk for instant use. But, for more than an occasional note or a hand-written thank you card, I prefer the keyboard. This for the girl who typed about 50 wpm in high school. I can delete at 100 wpm.

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  28. says

    Hi Nicole, hope you see this. I tried to comment on your blog but couldn’t log in! I just wanted to say, love your comment, ‘I treasured the rejection letters because it meant I tried.’ With an amazing attitude like that you succeed in whatever you do, past, present and future.

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  29. says

    ALWAYS write first draft by hand. I guess I don’t think linearly because I need the freedom that allows for arrows coming in from every direction. Long live sharp pencils and legal pads!

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  30. says

    Thanks to a long-term injury I type almost everything these days – it hurts less than handwriting! However, if I’m hopelessly stuck on a scene I still revert to good old fashioned pen and paper to try to sort the muddle out…

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  31. says

    I keep a notepad on my bedroom end table, another in the car, and another near my computer. And I have Post-it packs all over the house. You never know when you’ll be inspired! Just make sure you keep those Dollar Store reading glasses in every corner as well. Nothing worse than coming up with the Idea of the Century, scribbling it down, and later not being able to read it!

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  32. says

    My right hand has been out of order since my stroke, so I’ve been typing everything. I miss writing by hand, so I’m teaching myself to write left-handed. I’m not having much luck yet…

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  33. says

    Without a computer I wouldn’t write anything, ever. I owe every book I’ve written to technology I don’t even understand.

    My handwriting looks like it’s having an identity crises, and can’t decide how big or small to be. The individual letters look like they’re trying to transcend their form, and evolve into some sort of abstract art.

    I’m very lucky!

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  34. says

    I have around 5-6 note books and pens scattered around the house and in my handbag. I write feverishly when I get inspired, even in the dark at night, it can be single opening or closing lines, story ideas or dialogue.

    Otherwise, I type. All my drafts are typed, but my notes are on whatever I have to hand when I’m bitten. My files are full of notepads, napkins, scraps of paper, pages from magazines. I love to write, but I really do sympathize with the cartoon – writers cramp is terrible!

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    • says

      I should keep a tablet beside my bed. Like you, quite a few times inspiration hits after I’m snuggled under the covers. A few times I’ve gotten back up, knowing if I don’t, I won’t remember in the morning.
      I make notes, but then I transfer them to my computer. I keep folders for those notes. One is for comments said, another for story ideas or scenes, and another for character names, including pets. I read through them periodically just to refresh my memory of what’s there.
      I still have a mess of old notes that have not been transferred. I hope to get everything in one place to make it easier to find what I need.

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  35. says

    Thank you for posting this. I love her cartoons! She has such a delightful sense of humor.
    I have to use a computer now since my handwriting is so bad. Often I’m at a loss when I try to read my writing a few days later.
    I carry a 5×7 paper tablet in my purse for those times I have to write something down so I don’t forget. I got tired of all those scraps of paper!
    According to PsyBlog, it’s better to hand write things. I’ll take my chances with typing.

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