Rediscovering the Art of Writing - Lynne Garner

When working on a new article or short story I usually work directly onto my laptop to create my first draft. I think this is because I followed my dad’s advice (one of the few times I did during my teens) and learned to touch type, so it feels natural to work this way. However this summer my process has changed. 

This change has come about because I’ve been using the train far more than I usually do. For the last four years I’ve had a summer job working for a local college. For the first three years I was full time and stayed on site. However this year I’ve been part-time and rather than driving into work each day I decided to enjoy a more leisurely start to some of my days by taking the train. This has meant I’ve had two forty minute slots where I had essentially free time. So I decided I would invest in my current work in progress and either research (reading the large volume of old books on my kindle) or write. By this I mean not just the creative act but also the physical act of taking a pen and making marks on a piece of paper that resemble letters (I don’t have the tidiest handwriting). For the first couple of journeys I struggled. I had to slow my thoughts down. I can usually type at the same speed that I construct a sentence in my head. However I cannot write at the same speed. So in order to be able to read what I’d written I had to slow my internal voice down. I don’t know if this has improved the quality of my first draft but I think this physical act of setting words to paper gives a certain pleasure I don't get from tapping on my keyboard. It has made such a difference that the first draft of this blog post was written whilst sitting on the settee with my canine friend gently snoring next to me, something I've not done in a very long time.

So will the novelty of this rediscovered pleasure wear off? I don’t know but I think the signs are good that it won’t. I’ve already pulled from the depths of my bookshelves my stash of untouched notebooks. Some of which until now have been too nice to write in (it’s a writer thing, trust me. I have a number of writing friends who also have notebooks they’ve treated themselves to or received as a present and haven't been able to make themselves create that first mark just because the notebook is too ‘lush’). I’ve even set myself the task of choosing one of my ‘lush’ notebooks and putting in my travel bag so I can use it whilst I’m on holiday next month. I’m also going to treat myself to a retractable pencil, as I’ve discovered I find these easier to write with (this may be my artistic side coming out).

Now in order to round off this post I want to ask how you create your first draft. Do you go really old school and put pen to paper? Do you go just old school and use one of those contraptions known as a typewriter? Do you go straight to the keyboard and watch as the words you type magically appear on your computer screen? Or do you do as I’ve done here and mix it up?


My online courses via Women On Writing: 

I also write for the Picture Book Den and as the name suggests focuses on picture books plus The Hedgehog Shed, which is all about hedgehog rescue.


Wendy H. Jones said…
I agree, it is a totally different experience writing by hand. I believe it makes you think in different ways. However, Instill prefer keyboard for the major bulk of the work
JO said…
I scribble in notebooks all the time. And when I'm travelling, and write in cafes and at bus stations and any other unlikely stop, it's the safest way to do it (getting a tablet out in a crowded stations feels like asking to get it nicked).

Once I'm home, I use notebooks as much for playing with ideas as anything else. When these begin to crystalise into something that might look like a structure, then the laptop comes out.
Leela said…
Lynne, like you I tend to go straight to the laptop for prose, but poetry is a completely different thing. A wee book, scraps of paper is always on my bedside table and scribbles, some that I can't decipher appear on them! Also like Jo I tend to scribble wee notes when I'm travelling. Observations, scenes, even snippets of conversations, overheard on a train or a bus stop is good to jot down and extremely helpful to trigger ideas later.
I have a stash of notebooks that are 'too nice to use' as well. I've recently discovered that T K Maxx sometimes has blank Moleskine notebooks with colourful covers and I'm acquiring a little pile of them, pink, purple, although I DO bring myself to use those. I hate lined paper, so always go hunting for the unlined variety. Art shops are great - those lovely sketching notebooks are excellent for writing in too! And my favourite pens are those green (the pen, not the ink) Berol Italic Pens. Quite obsessive about those as well. Like Leela, I take notes in notebooks, occasionally draft out a blog post or plan something - but always do first drafts on the computer and I don't think I could do it any other way now. I never learned to touch type formally, but I use six fingers, don't ever look at the keyboard and type very fast - which I suppose most people do these days. I wear out keyboards. And I agree about poems. Don't write many poems these days, but first drafts of those were and still are on paper.
Chris Longmuir said…
My brain is wired to my keyboard and computer so I do all my writing that way. However, if I wake up early in the morning with a scene running through my head I dash to the study in my nightie and scribble it down on the back of any spare paper that is sitting there. I just have to be careful I don't bin it before I transfer it to the computer. Oh, and I know that feeling about notebooks. I have loads that are too nice to write in, and I can't resist buying them.
Debbie Bennett said…
Noooo ... you cannot sully a notebook with ink! 'Tis sacrilege! Notebooks - particularly those which are hardback or bound with faux or real leather - are designed to be looked at and occasionally lovingly stroked.....
Susan Price said…
I mix it up. Mostly I write straight onto the computer - but when I go to write in a pub (as I often do) or when I'm away from home, I scribble in a notepad. I'm not fussy about the note-pad: the cheapest one, lined or unlined,will do. I don't buy stylish pads because they're not the cheapest - but if someone bought me one, I'd write in it. I know no bounds, me.

Am much fussier about the pen. It has to be smooth, not scratchy, fast-flowing, scribbly, so I can write fast.

Occasionally an idea arrives together with the idea that it HAS to be written by hand, on paper - so I obey that impulse instead of struggling with it. I have no idea why that happens.
Lydia Bennet said…
I've switched over more and more to using the computer, even for first drafts of poems which always used to be hand written - however my 'morning pages' have been hand written and it's a very different experience, but I can't slow myself down so they are practically illegible to anyone but me.
I have gone back to writing first drafts by hand - then I go to the computer for second draft onwards. I actually find writing by hand is faster (almost twice the speed, surprisingly - possibly because I'm not tempted to keep stopping to edit as I go?) and feels much more direct without any of the associated health risks of using a screen. I'm left-handed... does this make a difference? Nobody can read my handwritten drafts except me, though, so it's not pretty!
Sandra Horn said…
Aeons ago, one of my writer friends said she had to take her (then v. bulky) computer with her whenever she needed to write, as she had lost the link between her writing hand and her brain. I was horrified and promised myself I wouldn't go that way. Ha ha! Now, I struggle to get my thoughts down by hand and when I do, they are all but illegible - so a huge thank you for pointing out the need to slow it all down!
Ann Turnbull said…
Lynne, like you I do a lot of train travel. The train journey to visit my mum is about six and a half hours each way, plus time on my own in a hotel, so I always take notebooks and pencils - plus my Kindle, for when I need a break! I've always written by hand, but not a whole draft - I'd be too worried about losing it or not being able to read it. I word-process and save frequently. One advantage of writing by hand is that when you change something you cross stuff out - but it's STILL THERE, and sometimes first thoughts are best, and you might want to come back to them. I'm a touch-typist and I grew up with manual typewriters. I do miss the satisfying slam of the carriage return, but not enough to give up all the benefits of word-processing. Thank goodness we no longer need all those carbon copies and Tippex.
Gill James said…
I use my tablet if I cant take my laptop on a journey. That is also slower than the laptop but at east I can read what I've written. The slowing down is useful. Love writing on trains. Get loads done on the journey from Manchester to London.
Lynne Garner said…
Jo - I know what you mean about asking for trouble by getting out a tablet etc. In the past when I've had an idea I've put it in the notepad on my phone.

Leela - I'm glad I'm not the only one who writes down overheard conversation, a great source of inspiration.

Lydia, Leela and Katherine - so pleased to read I'm not the only one with handwriting that is untidy.

glitter noir said…
Fascinating piece and lively discussion. No debate for me, though: the hand rules. I love defiling pristine Moleskines--but even I have my limits. I use a pencil, never a pen!

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