I’ve experimented with myriad writing devices, methods of backing up writing, and modes to visualize writing-in-progress. I haven’t tried them all, but my education is thorough enough to be called “well-rounded.” I’ve found, to great enthusiasm, that my preferred method is old timey pen and paper. I’m not going to argue that everyone adopts this system, but I’ll talk about why I find it effective.
1) I’m Weak
When I access a Word document, the first thing I see is the opening line of my manuscript. This is already a devastating setback. The opening line is going to be what sells this book—to a publisher, to consumers, to the world. I could labor over that idea for hours without getting any writing done. At any stage of a project, I will dwell on the opening paragraph like an addict tying off their arm and saying, “Okay, but this is the last time.”
The most important thing in the world is the quest to fill another blank page. I can’t do that if I’m backpedaling to edit the work of yesterday, or of last week.
2) Page Real Estate
Speaking of editing, there’s only so much of it I can do on a legal pad. If I cross out a line in the middle of a paragraph, I can only replace it in the margins, or in the rapier-thin space above its predecessor. Then I have to move forward. There is physically no other option.
Since my ability to edit is limited, I find myself engaging in a constant mental dialogue with the Me who will, one day, revisit and rewrite the draft. If I use a word that I know is better employed elsewhere, a certain amount of soul-searching takes place where I think, “I’ll definitely see that and know what to do with it next time around,” versus “Maybe I’ll add a note in the margins about how to fix this later.” I think this demands a level of self-awareness that might not be available to me, were I simply able to hit Backspace and forgive all sins.
4) One Draft, One Location
There was a brief, chaotic period where I worked on a project using: 1) an AlphaSmart, 2) an iPad, and 3) a PC, which depended entirely on my geography at the time. This is a terrible idea. There are effective ways of backing up writing using Dropbox or email. However, keeping track of the most recent draft, or exchanging file formats between devices, can be devastating to the productivity I’m supposed to be practicing.
This method is reserved for first draft material only. My current project doesn’t resemble a “story” as much as dog vomit, which is all I expect of it for now.
Of course I intend on committing the book to .doc format once the first draft is done. For this reason, I’ve retained an ancient disc that houses Microsoft Word 2003, the last Word program to make sense. This disc will be an asset included in my Last Will and Testament, along with my copies of Windows 7 and Wild Arms 2.
To my mind, the pen and paper process is perfection. There is one flaw that will hold millions of people from adopting it: What happens when a dragon attacks Los Angeles and burns down my apartment—and my book with it?
I’ll just have to write faster than the dragon.