When the pen is mightier than the keyboard

PenWith some very famous exceptions (most of which are writers in their eighties and nineties), most writers today write with a keyboard and not a pen. We have so much in the way of technology to help us that there is little need to pick up a pen, except perhaps to annotate corrections on a draft. I suspect you’re like me, much faster at typing than you are at writing with a pen; and the keyboard gives you immediate feedback that you can edit and refine. Why would you want to use a pen?

Writers also have all manner of software to help them with all aspects of the writing process including: outlining, mind mapping, word processing, e-book building, publishing, book designing,  blogging, spreadsheet analysis, as well as specialist software designed for writers such as Scrivener. So why might you ask should you ever need to pick up a pen?

Recently, I finished the first draft of my second novel. I still have a significant amount of editing to do, but this is best done after a reasonable period of time away from the draft, so to view it afresh. So I put the draft aside for the time being and started planning the work on my third novel.

Well there are lots of software that can be used for planning a book: mind mapping software, outliners, and spreadsheets, and they are all in their own way helpful. But none of them can beat the simplicity of letting your mind wander on paper with a pen: thinking on paper. Perhaps it’s because all these software tools are so structured, organised and provide pristine output that they appeal to our logical left-side of the brain. Whereas the pen moves faster and messier, and appeals to the creative right side of our brain. In fact, it doesn’t matter how messy your writing or scribbling gets, what you want to do is harvest those hidden gems of originality that are embedded somewhere in your scribblings and doodling.

In my case, I had been fretting over what to write next. I had my ideas files, which I keep in One Note, but none of the ideas seemed to jump out and grab me. So I started scribbling down ‘what if’ ideas and then an unusual idea for a protagonist came to mind with an unusual problem. (No I’m not going to tell you who or what.) In the space of an hour I had ideas for the first three scenes. It’s still early days and I need to do a lot more testing of the idea before I really start in earnest, but it looks promising.

So if you are looking for new ideas for writing, don’t just stare at a blank screen. Perhaps you would be more creative if you got out your pen and paper and just started to jot down those ideas that jump into your head. It’s what I call ‘brain dumping’. Be as silly as you like. Or you could just start to write about anything that comes into your head, even if it’s gibberish. The trick is to keep writing and just let your mind wander. After ten minutes take a look and see.  Expect there to be a lot rubbish; but just maybe, you will find a real gem or two.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block

That’s what I thought until a young writer contacted me recently asking for ideas of how to get around writer’s block.  She had had some success as a writer and was finding it hard to get started again.  That very success seemed to be the cause of her anxiety, and that was holding her back from starting again.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that if writer’s block exists, it has nothing to do with a shortage of ideas to write, or knowing what words to start with. Quite the opposite.  It’s a form of paralysis caused  by too many ideas to choose from, and a nagging self-doubt that any of those ideas will lead to anything of real quality.

I’m sure all writers have spells where we are distracted for periods. Writing is a solitary activity and it’s easy to get distracted by e-mails, social networking, marketing – anything other than writing.  And I think it is here that we can lose some of the passion to write and let self-doubt creep in. We write a paragraph and it looks like c**p, compared to the work we’ve published before.  We seem to forget that all first drafts are rubbish, and it’s only after the editing and polishing that the draft will begin to shine.

Some of the writing  gurus say that the answer is for all writers to set  word count targets per day, or per week; turn off the e-mail, Facebook etc. and focus on writing the first draft.  They also suggest avoiding redrafting until the first draft is complete. Others have said that they will start the day editing the work finished the day before, but will not go back any further.  This way they can keep up the daily count.

It’s probably all good advice, but it is not for me.  I write when the creative juices are running.  When I’m not happy with a scene,  I sometimes leave it for days to let my subconscious work on it.  Then I go back and redraft the scene, and any further structural changes before moving on.  The time I spend thinking about the problem, for me, is just as valuable as the time spent hitting the keys.  But then again, I’m fortunate, as writing is a hobby for me; it doesn’t have to pay for my board and rations, and I don’t have any publisher’s targets to meet.

If you’re a writer, have you ever experienced writer’s block?  And if so, what was your solution?