Monday, July 28, 2014

True to Life - Step 7


                                                                     Choose your tools

re you a pen person or a computer person? Seriously consider trying both. The rhythm of scratching a pen nib across a piece of paper has been with humanity for many hundreds of years, the speedy bounce of a cursor along a lighted screen for only a few decades. Some believe the ease of word processing has improved speed but not writing content and style. Perhaps you are so used to the responsive hare-like dash of the computer that the old-fashioned technology of the pen makes you feel like a lumbering tortoise. But remember who won the race.
Many writers—J.K. Rowling is one—still write long-hand and transcribe their words onto a computer as their second draft. I strongly recommend that computer junkies try writing first drafts with paper and pen. It’s a sane, connected rhythm. And typing that material into the computer affords a whole new view of the work.
After several PCs, my first Mac, stylish white MacZine, became my best friend. I loved her and her silvery replacements MacTruck and FleetwoodMac. But for most first drafts, I still write longhand. I choose my pens carefully —a thick nib, a slender carriage, easy ink flow, and black ink. There are three pots stuffed with pens beside me rightnow, and pencils, too, newly sharpened. Hemingway did all his first drafts in pencil. Neil Gaiman uses classy Water-man fountain pens. Mmmm.
What about paper? Thick, thin, recycled, lined, unlined? Big yellow pads or pretty French notebooks? If you use a computer, can you write a whole piece without printing, or do you need to print regularly so you can see words on paper? Don’t forget all those nifty little devices beloved of paper nuts: erasers, Wite-Out, rulers, paper clips, file folders, Post-it notes, Sharpie markers. Perhaps, at the beginning of the writing process, you could use large sheets of unlined paper and crayons or felt pens, drawing pictures to access another part of the brain. Later, you could make sense of a chaotic manuscript by sticking file cards to the wall or spreading them across the floor or stringing them on a clothesline.
What else might you need? Scanner, hole-punch, bulle-tin board, backscratcher? Rock collection? Pictures of your family or guru for inspiration—or would that be too distracting? Music? Noise-cancelling earphones?
And then there’s one of the most important tools of all: a wastepaper basket or recycling bin. Use yours fearlessly. I have in my office an inspiring picture of the great New Yorker essayist E.B. White writing in his country cabin. There is nothing in the room where he works except a plain plank desk and bench, a manual typewriter, pencils—and a very large barrel for his rejected pages.
Make the effort to choose the right tools. This is the fun part—strapping on your tool belt and getting ready to work. Aldous Huxley, asked how to become a novelist, replied, “The first thing is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.”


After you learn to write, your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil, you get three different sights at it … First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it … It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.
Ernest Hemingway

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