Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Like many story-tellers, when I'm coming up with a good yarn, I find it difficult to remember everything word for word so that I can hand it down via oral tradition. I've tried and tried, but I never get the pauses just right and most of the time my listeners run away from me before I've managed to spout out much past chapter 1.

As a result, I decided to give a try to writing things down. Now, just in case you haven't tried this yourself, let me save you some heartache. Writing in wet sand is awesome for short works of fiction and poetry, but only until the tide comes in. Artful mustard on a hotdog kind of works for hashing out titles, but too many drafts and you'll have serious tummy trouble. Then there is the ever faithful bathroom wall. This one has served me well, but I think a lot of people have probably been calling my characters' fictional phone numbers for a good time only to be disappointed by their inherent fiction-ness.

So, I've turned to a few materials that are a little more efficient in my daily pursuit of story. Throughout the course of this blog, I will dedicate posts on Tuesdays to reviewing/discussing some of the "tools of the trade" which have helped me put down the sidewalk chalk and fingerpaints to embrace more conventional materials. (I no longer eat my first drafts, but I do occasionally enjoy a Hebrew National hotdog or two. I am still awaiting the first Pulitzer Prize for "works of mustard.")

The Digital Age

I like to write by hand. I actually wrote this blog by hand, but my husband came along behind me and cleaned the screen with Windex, so I had to start all over. Okay, okay, that didn't happen, but it would have made it a lot easier to see my email if there still weren't all of my scribblings over the screen.

Seriously, of course I use a computer to write. In this day and age where smartphones have become so ubiquitous, almost everyone has a computer as near as their pocket. Word processing brought about a new era of writing, a whole new paradigm of drafting and structure. I believe that it was the onset of computer writing that helped shape mainstream writers' and readers' tastes from the verbose, long-winded narrative to the tighter, more action oriented works that set the standard these days. In the days of Victor Hugo, there was no easy way to go back through a draft and delete all mentions of Fantine when he realized that he really meant to name her Dorothy Mae and let her live to the end of the book just so that Anne Hathaway would someday have more screentime in the movie version of the musical version of the book (or something like that.) Writing was grueling, painstaking work. It still is, but it is a lot easier these days to get your thoughts out and arrange them the way you want.

Now the medium works for the way our brains do, not the other way around. Writing is malleable, and there are options out there for everyone. I use a couple of different writing programs that I love and intend to name children after, but the way my work starts, every single time, is with the good old pen and paper.

The Holy Trinity

I could use a 10 cent Bic and the back of a napkin to write. As a matter of fact, I have done this and done it often. However, when it comes down to the act of "setting the stage" to write, there three things for me to consider that will have a huge bearing on the enjoyment I might get from the experience, and the quality of the pages I will have in front of me when I'm through (which still matter a great deal to me even once I've pecked them out on a computer later). The "holy trinity" of the act of writing: pen, paper, and ink.

The Pen: Fountain Pen

I use fountain pens for a number of reasons. The first, most important reason is that I like them. They are beautiful objects to me, and I collect and fawn over them the way many women do with jewelry. They are not only beautiful, (or are perhaps beautiful because) they are useful. They earn their keep, and every word I write with them brings them value to me. I remember how it felt to have that particular pen in my hand while I wrote a particularly intense or moving scene. My pens can almost become a talisman of sorts, but they don't smell nearly as bad as the athlete who refuses to change his socks and risk breaking a winning streak. Fountain pens are comfortable to use, and they will outlive me. I love vintage pens, like this Sheaffer Balance from the 1930's. I love thinking about the fact that this very nib could have written a book that I've read. You never know.

The Paper: All Comers Accepted, Must Play Nice with Fountain Pen

I love notebooks. I hand-bind journals with good paper because I love them so much. I have a cabinet with a shelf of full ones and a shelf of blank ones, just waiting to be used. I'm partial to Rhodia paper as it is wonderful with fountain pens and a nice writing experience, but I also love Moleskines despite my fountain pens' protests. Either way, a good notebook can make you feel like you're housing your writing in something special. It is where it sleeps it night, it is where you will go to visit it when you have a new idea. Glancing over and seeing that notebook is going to give you a feeling in your gut because you left some of your guts in there, outlined in ink. Okay, that was a little dramatic, but my writing is important to me, so what I write on is important to me, too.

The Ink: The Color of Your Mood

Ink is something that not a lot of people think about unless they too write with fountain pens. If you don't, it usually comes in blue or black (or red, if you're a teacher). That's about it. Oh, my non-fountain pen using friends, there is so much you have to learn. There are amazing inks out there in every color you can imagine (and some that were a surprise to me). For me, this enables me to further entrance myself with my writing because I can tailor the color of ink I'm using to the style I'm writing in at the time. If it's serious, dour, I might pull out a steadfast blue-black. If it's a fun, wild scene, I have an electric purple that makes my eyes hurt. There is nothing like flipping back through your notebook and seeing your scenes divided up by color and knowing off the bat exactly what mood you were going for in a glance. 

I hope that this overview is helpful in understanding my process, but there is more than one way to pet a cat. (I know that it's really "skin" a cat, but my cat is on my desk and she's staring at me.) Hopefully as we journey along through the blogsphere, I can hit some items/programs/napkins that will appeal to others as well. Please send me suggestions for reviews and feel free to comment or drop me an email at blankpagewarrior at gmail dot com (take that, spambots!) and let me know what you think! Anything that can enhance or streamline a writing process is a welcome thing.

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