With all of the gizmos, gadgets, and greatness available to us today, a lot of people have forgotten about the basics. No, I’m not talking about a Word program with no frills, I’m talking about the way Dickinson and Austen and Wollstonecraft-Shelly wrote. I’m talking about writing a first draft from beginning to end with a pen and paper.
Now I know that there are a few automatic concerns:
1) OMG THE ENVIRONMENT! – Yeah, I know. Use recycled paper and write small.
2) I MIGHT LOSE IT! – A true concern, especially for those used to saving copies on multiple hard drives, in e-mails, and on a friend’s PC, just in case. But then maybe this will be good exercise for your brain! Now where did I put my pen…?
3) BUT THEN I CAN’T EDIT AS I GO! – Exactly.
I recently started working on the first draft of a new story (I’ve honestly lost count of how many I have going at once). When the idea came to me I was at work and, since I work in a book store, I couldn’t exactly sit down on a computer or with my phone and type up the scene. So I grabbed a few pieces of scrap paper and began to write. On my break I worked on it even more, piecing together the papers and writing up the entire beginning scene. When I got home, I had two options: type it up into a word document or continue writing it by hand. Against my usual habits, I decided to write this story by hand.
The experience has been liberating.
I’ve heard from a hundred different people that you have to turn off your inner editor when you write your first draft. Just go with the flow and ignore the changes she suggests! I thought I had managed to do that, but now I realize I wasn’t even close. I know that making changes in a written manuscript are incredibly time consuming and can get very complicated–especially when you’re writing in bound notebooks instead of loose-leaf paper. Because I know this, it is so much easier to lock that editor in a cage and give her something else to keep her occupied. The comparative silence in my head is amazing.
I’m not saying that my writing has suddenly improved tenfold or anything like that, but I’ve come to see that writing an entire first draft by hand is an experience every writer should have. I know that a lot of things I’ve written down will change or disappear entirely. And that’s okay! For now, I’m listening to my characters and letting the story go where they take it. They’ll be plenty of time to direct them later.