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An interesting column in the New York Times on how writing outside frees the mind and enhances creativity. I have a favorite park and a favorite bench where I used to write my stories. Since I started hanging out at a coffee house with free wifi, I've forsaken my old sanctuary and I miss it. I realize now that I need to return.


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I try to edit my own work in public places sometimes, either at a park or at a Starbucks or something, using paper. I agree, sometimes being surrounded by people (not talking loudly) is a nice way to work.

I'm reminded of how Jo Rowling wrote most of the Harry Potter stories in that pub in Edinburgh -- though after the first one, the owner was kind enough to give her a private room upstairs so she could have some privacy.

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You write your stories longhand, James?! My word! I'd never have written anything if I had to do that. I'm changing things all the time, adding and subtracting, moving a paragraph from one place to another. Plus, I write much faster using a keyboard than a pen or pencil. I find this utterly amazing.

Does anyone else here write things out longhand?


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Although I concur that I am utterly amazing, I hasten to explain that it is only in the raw rough draft stage that I work in longhand, pen to paper. I suppose it is a holdover from writing poetry, where things must be jotted down in the heat of the moment and the keyboard is always six blocks away. I do go to that keyboard when I transpose from the very first crude draft, so that I too can enjoy the thrill of moving things around. But most of my wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night aha! moments continue to be captured on paper. At least it is not scraped parchment.

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Does anyone else here write things out longhand?


I can't imagine writing in longhand. I'm one of those people who struggles to read back what I've written in longhand, unless I take great care and attention and write slowly. It's that atrocious. My teachers almost completely gave up on trying to get me to improve legibility by the time I was twelve or thirteen, and just asked the I print instead of write.

I can type, however, with the best of them.

I could never write anything except fridge notes and grocery lists in longhand. And I admit, sometimes I find myself in aisle 7 at the grocery store scratching my head and thinking, "What the *#?$ does this say?"

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I do tons of notes in longhand, and carry a little spiral notebook and pen with me everywhere I go -- in the car, when I work, when I'm exercising, when I'm at home at my desk, and also by my bedside. You never know when an interesting idea will strike. Later on, I throw all the notes in a big manilla envelope, and every so often, I go through them and add the thoughts and changes to the story. Sometimes it's just one line -- "character X explains why we can sometimes see the moon during the day" -- and that might inspire 2 or 3 pages.

I find editing in paper to be more productive than editing on screen. I do all my writing in a word processor, but there's something about having the paper in my hand that's a different experience. Once I scribble down all my changes in longhand, then I go back to the word processor file and make the changes permanent.

I can't imagine writing an entire story from start to finish in longhand on paper, but there are plenty of people who did it. Jo Rowling did this for the first draft on all the Harry Potter books (or at least that's the popular legend), and I know Stephen King opted to write Dreamcatcher (an 800-page opus) in longhand because of injuries suffered in a car accident. It wouldn't work for me -- my hand would fall off by about page five. But I've made some very, very important decisions and changes before in handwriting, up to and including the endings for several stories and fixing major character issues.

Note that the little spiral notebook (and pen) requires no batteries, works if I sit on it, can survive being dropped three stories, works anywhere in the world, never needs a software update, and never crashes. There are always advantages to handwriting for certain things.

I honestly don't give a crap if a writer writes in blood, chips away on a rock tablet the size of Stonehenge, or uses the latest $10,000 computer to write; all I care about is whether the story is good. If it is, how it got there doesn't matter. Whatever's comfortable for them is cool by me.

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The author of the blog post was commenting on how pleasant and helpful to the writing process it can be to go outside, that she often finds nature gets the creative juices flowing and she can think more clearly in the sunlight, listening to the birds and feeling the breeze. I find it helpful, as well. Sitting at the park helps me concentrate and when I need a break, looking at the clouds in the sky or the squirrels running across the grass is refreshing. I don;t think it matters what medium you choose to write in, but environment can often facilitate the process.

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My problem wouldn't be my hand falling off. My problem would be I'd write so slowly that I'd lose so many of the thoughts that race ahead of my as I type. I can almost keep up typing. I'd be behind writing longhand right from the start.

Maybe you should do what Rod Serling did with all his classic Twilight Zone scripts: he dictated them all into a recorder, then had a secretary type it all out the next day. Nowadays, you could use Dragon "Naturally Speaking" software and other speech-to-text devices. I assume you can talk as fast as your ideas come to you.

On the other hand, it's kinda embarrassing to say some of this crap out loud. I kind of mutter my own dialogue and other passages, but it'd be tough to actually recite it, like in front of an audience.

I need quiet to write. No music, TV, or outside - it's always something. Glare on the screen, the dogs, the damn neighbor or his offspring.

I can write with instrumentals in the background, like jazz or light classical, but I can't do it with conventional vocals, like pop or rock music. That's too distracting. "The words get in the way," as the song goes.
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"The words get in the way," as the song goes.

One of my favorite sixties songs is Peter, Paul, and Mary singing "I dig Rock 'n Roll" and they use that line about the Mama's and the Papa's. "They got a good thing going when the words don't get in the way!" I;m wondering what the M&P's lyricist thought of that? :laugh:

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I always brainstorm outside, loud, and active. Following railroad tracks through the woods while juggling and listening to folk-punk on headphones. Spending hours in the throes of simulated violence at a day-long music festival. Driving across America in 12-hour shifts, screaming along to songs of hope and desperation. Inspiration hits, and the brain starts to go.

Once I've got that "spark", I start taking notes on spiral notebooks. It's still fast and violent, and it happens in quick spurts. Much crossing-out, page-tearing, and scribbled diagrams/sketches.

When it comes time to finally get things typed out? Cloistered up like a monk. No noise, no distractions, shades drawn.

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One of my favorite sixties songs is Peter, Paul, and Mary singing "I dig Rock 'n Roll" and they use that line about the Mama's and the Papa's. "They got a good thing going when the words don't get in the way!" I'm wondering what the M&P's lyricist thought of that? :laugh:

Hahaha! Congrats on getting the reference to an obscure 46-year-old song! Rock fans are still debating whether Paul Stookey was being cynical and sarcastic, or if this was a sincere homage to rock from a die hard folkie. Even though Stookey has sworn up and down for years he intended for it to be affectionate, I think it wreaks of being a negative put-down, particularly the lines that kind of slam The Mamas & The Papas for basically being a folk group that went commercial pop, and for the Beatles catering their songs towards radio (and not trying to be profound or meaningful). But that's me.

And I still like the song and think it's very clever, though I think many folk musicians in 1967 were bewildered at how the entire folk train came to a halt and rock music (and the summer of love) completely took over.

We now return you to our previous discussion...

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