Edith, North of Boston
We’re talking analog versus digital today. How do you work when you write? Would you rather take a finely crafted pen to a tablet of smooth paper, or do the words flow best when you’re typing away on a keyboard? If you combine the methods – no, NOT scribbling on the screen with your pen – when does paper and pen let the creativity flow better than a computer, and vice versa? Or do you, as with a friend of mine in California, collect analog (that is, “old-fashioned”) typewriters and type your manuscript on one of them? (And yes, that IS the Sisters in Crime New England chapter logo…)
Jessie: I do both. For each new novel I set out to write I grab a black Rhodia or Moleskine notebook and a trusty gel pen, preferably purple. I then begin asking myself questions in the notebook and answering them in a variety of ways. I often leave spaces in case something occurs to me later that I wish to add. Often, as I write the answers, one becomes clearly the right answer, so I circle it. I go one in this fashion until I have enough information to begin the story. For me that is probably about a third to a half of the book. At that point I begin setting up notecards in Scrivener on my computer. Whenever I get stuck I head back to my notebook and look at what I was thinking earlier. If that doesn’t solve the problem I ask myself more questions. I go back and forth between the first draft is complete.
Edith: I primarily write my books and stories on a computer. I might be on my big laptop in my home office, I might be on my little netbook on an airplane, or I used to might, um, I could have even been found jotting a quick scene at my day-job computer, when I had a day job. I’m now using Scrivener and love it but used Word until this summer. But I can certainly take advantage of a slow period on vacation at my in-laws, say, and pull out a piece of paper at the kitchen table. Scribble on whatever’s handy at a doctor appointment. Write on on a deposit slip while waiting in line for tickets. The other way I have to use paper is to read my work. I need to print it out, take it to the dining table, and apply my red (or purple, Jessie!) pen. You see things very differently on screen and on paper.
Barb: Like Jessie, I’m a mixed media woman. Everyone who knows me, knows my constant companion is a Levenger Circa notebook (junior size) in which I keep my calendar, to-do lists and chronological notes–from groceries to writer’s group feedback, to Level Best business to day job notes back when I had one. When I start a book (or even a short story–since they take me months–not to write but to go through all the drafts), I set up a Levenger Circa letter-sized notebook and that’s where the brainstorming happens. A smooth-flowing gel pen is a must.
I used to write out scene cards and write first drafts longhand, but now that all happens in Scrivener. But if I’m really stuck, I’ll go back to longhand. I took a class at Kripalu with Laraine Herring who said after she finishes a first draft, and really knows what the book is about, she goes back and does the second draft in longhand. I’ve never taken the time to do this, but I think, if I did, I would write a better and certainly a more literary book. For me, there is still a difference in the writing I do based on the technology I use. But I’m also hugely grateful for the modern tools we have and I couldn’t imagine the days before cut and paste.
Sherry: I stubbornly stuck to pen and paper for a long time thinking it was more creative. I felt like there was a mystical link from brain to pen. But writing then typing was too time consuming. The first three chapters of Tagged for Death poured out of me onto the computer. Like Barb, when I get stuck I often go back to pen and paper and usually move out of my office to another spot like the front porch, weather permitting. I have some scene notes on paper. Thanks to SincNE and the Gwen Hernandez Scrivener class I plan to start using that program soon.
Liz: I’m a laptop girl. It’s much easier for me to sit and bang out a draft on my computer (using Scrivener, of course), and I especially love the notecards in the software. It saves me from locating index cards, scribbling a few notes on them, and then losing them and trying to remember the notes. This way, everything is right in front of me.
I do go to paper when I’m editing, often to write out my timeline and see where the gaps are. That’s been helpful in getting the last details down, or closing the last few holes in the story. Like Edith, I also print and edit at least twice in the process. I get to a point where nothing makes sense anymore when I’m staring at the screen, and when I see it in black and white I can unravel whatever mess I’m in. I write a few notes in the draft, but then I’m back at the computer usually within minutes to capture everything – and I find that process often jogs my creativity and helps me solve the problem faster.
Julie: Part of me wishes I wrote on paper. It is so much more mobile. But I write on computers, and edit on paper. Scrivener has both made the process better and a little more complicated, but I have realized that I need to bring my laptop with me, and just keep working whenever I can.
I also either print preview or physically lay out the pages to see how the manuscript looks. Do the chapters “look” even? Does the pacing feel right? Where are the plot points? For some reason, this is very visual to me, and really helpful when looking at the manuscript.
Readers: How do you create, whether it’s stories, poems, letters, or artwork of the non-verbal kind? Are you attached to paper or a digital medium? And what do you prefer to read on?