The last reblogged posting by Vincent Mars, (boy with a hat), has stimulated some more thoughts on the topic of handwriting versus typing (or wordprocessing).
Ian (Harry) Wells, who, like Vincent, writes short pieces, places a slightly different emphasis on writing by hand. He says:
I write sporadically and at whim. I save all the end products of my scribblings in a dedicated computer file and irregularly give my children copies on thumb drives. I call this file The ‘Inkling’ Scribbles.
I like the name because I AM an inkling; I use REAL ink. I frequently jot down ideas that come to me while reading, watching TV, on the net or just thinking, and for this I use a fountain pen. I sometimes later follow up and expand on these ideas. Why do I write with a fountain pen? I am a Luddite at heart and using a fountain pen takes me back to a favoured time when life’s pace was less frenetic. Fountain pens, unlike skinny plastic ballpoint pens, are made to feel good in the hand; contoured grip sections, more substantial weight and better balance design result in a more comfortable writing experience. My hand used to cramp using a biro during writing sessions, but not anymore, because a fountain pen glides over the paper making it a joy to write. Maybe it’s my inner geek speaking, but I find it fascinating that there are several parts of the pen I can investigate, clean and service, and there’s either a shiny steel or gold nib that delivers runny ink to the page by capillary action, without me having to push hard onto the paper. And lastly I can recharge or replace the pen’s reservoir and avoid the need to wastefully throw away those plastic ballpoint pens when they run out of ink.
‘The Inklings’ (plural) was the name of an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford for nearly two decades between the early 1930s and late 1949. (See his recent guest post “Life in the Forties and Fifties was Fun” on this blog.)
I recently enrolled in James Patterson’s online Masterclass. He writes suspensful murder mysteries and thrillers, which are different from my style and reading tastes. However, like Stephen King (On Writing) he has a lot of good advice about writing in general. And who wouldn’t take note of what James has to say; after all, he has 75 novels under his belt, and is still being published and read widely. In the online lessons (22 in all) he gives tricks of the trade to writers and would-be writers, covering all aspects of the writing process from start to finish. He includes lesson plan PDFs, and allows for comments from participants.
James places a great deal of emphasis on plot, and he stresses the importance of writing outlines as the key to his success as a writer of mystery/crime novels. What might seem contradictory is that he states that character is what drives the plot. He has a lot of good advice about creating characters, point of view and dialogue. But it is the plot that he focuses on from the outset. To support this impression of mine, he includes two lessons out of the twenty-two on writing a good outline.
In the chapter on Writers’ Block, James advises that it is better to just crash through during the first draft. He writes in pencil, always thinking about the story, rather than the sentences. James likes to write on alternative lines, and does many edits, not only of the first draft, but of the outline as well.
I also write in pencil during the first “creative” phase of the novel writing process. I tend to write quickly and messily, just trying to get something down to work with. But I don’t do a plot outline at the outset, preferring to wait until I have a direction and a character or two established, before I think about where the story is going. Sometimes, this will not become clear until well into the first draft, or even towards the end. After many edits, the original chapters will be in a word processing format, in a document that will undergo many future changes. Wordprocessing suits me, because I never learnt to write neatly as a child. However, I admire those with neat handwriting.
Helene Young agrees with me in her post “To Plot or Not to Plot” (See The Australian Literary Review). She writes:
Anyone who knows me well knows that I write organically – or by the seat of my pants, if you want the honest truth.
For me the story starts with one or two characters, plus a setting and a theme. I start writing and then hang on for the ride until I reach the end. Plotting, sadly, is not my strong point. I gloss over it when I’m delivering workshops, waving airily at diagrams of Three Act or Five Act stories, and talking loftily of story arc, all the while knowing I don’t plot before I start writing.
So why am I writing a blog post about plotting? Because ultimately I do plot, but not until I’ve written the first draft. Sound a little nutty to you? You may be right… Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something I’m proud of, nor have I publicly admitted it before, but I thought it was time to come clean. I hope it might bring comfort to those who do struggle to plot the whole story before they start to write. You may judge my process to be lacking in finesse, but I don’t plan to change it any time soon. You can be assured that it works for me and it may just work for you too. See the rest of her post at
One of my former tutors said that it boils down to a “male versus female” approach to novel writing, but I am loath to put my name to a sexist analysis of this question. Perhaps an amalgum of the two approaches is the ideal, that is a little of each, drawing on an outline when the time is right, and focusing on the segments when it is not yet warranted.
What is your main approach to writing longer pieces?