Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Notebook Cure

Last night, I watched countless programs about the events unfolding in New Orleans and the entire Gulf region. Horrified doesn't even begin to describe my reaction. I'm donating to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Disaster Fund. I urge anyone who can afford it to do the same. Every little bit helps.

It feels very strange to blog about normal things when the world around us seems so unsettled. But in the interest of pulling myself out of my melancholy, I want to keep living life as normally as I can. Something none of us should take for granted right now.

I've been using a computer for so long now - at work and at home - that writing things out on paper is almost painful for me. It's like my fingers are so out of shape writing-wise that they don't remember how to execute the proper moves. My printing is so terribly sloppy, I'm almost embarrassed when I have to send notes to school or write out a thank you letter.

Not only that, but my brain works differently now. I'm so used to thinking in backspace mode that when I have to commit words in ink on paper, I come up nearly blank. I have to see what I've written in front of me so I can decide if I'm happy with it or not, which requires the ability to erase it all with ease when it's more the not. Since I don't like writing with a pencil, that means lots of rewriting to keep things I'm going to send to other people neat and tidy.

So the idea of writing an entire novel out in longhand is inconceivable to me. When I read about writers who take their notebooks to the park or to the coffee shop (a la JK Rowling) where they fill page after page, I can't imagine ever doing that. Sure, I carry around a notebook which I use to jot down thoughts or bits of research or things that don't lend themselves to being typed easily into a word processing program, like family trees or maps of imaginary towns. But an entire novel? On real, live paper? No way.

But a couple of weeks ago, I hit a bit of writer's block. Rather than stare at the blank screen in front of me that almost seemed to be saying, "Come on, I dare you!", I picked up a notebook and started to write in it instead. Just as I expected it would be, it was pretty painful. I crossed out pretty much every other word and every other complete sentence. The margins are crammed with rewrites, and there are so many arrows pointing this way and that I'm not sure I'll ever untangle the mess.

But it did work. I managed to get down several pages, and even though I doubt the word count is very high given that most of the pages are more crossed-out-stuff than keep-stuff, at least I wrote something.

I think something about knowing that writing on paper will mean I'll have lots of errors is kind of liberating. When you have the ability to backspace, the pressure to stew until the perfect sentence emerges is pretty strong. Looking at a blank screen is a lot more threatening than looking at a blank page filled with faint blue lines acting as gentle guides and margins offering plenty of buffer space for future corrections.

Ever since I sat down at the library on Monday, all set to really get going on one of my twenty starts, I've been nearly paralyzed. The urge to write has completely disappeared. Granted, this is not abnormal for this particular time of the month since my creativity levels ebb and flow with my hormones. But I'd determined to ignore this uncontrollable aspect and work through those slow times, regardless of how uninspired I've felt.

I think what is probably happening is total fear because now I must produce. Which means, it's probably time to get that notebook out and forget about the blank screen of my laptop. Maybe if I remember that it's okay to make lots of mistakes, I'll be able to at least get something down on paper. I can always cross it all out later.

Worst part about writing in longhand? Somebody has to transcribe it all into the laptop eventually. I remember the days when my mother typed my father's PhD dissertation on a tiny electric typewriter.

Wonder how much she'd charge to do that for me?


Jody W. said...

The trick with notebook writing is to have the right pen. I don't know what your right pen is, but I favor this microball I stole from my friend Monica at a chapter meeting. When it runs out of ink, I may have to admit to the theft and ask her what it was. I like a silky smooth line of ink.

See, now you get to PEN SHOP! And take it off your taxes!

MaryF said...

If I do it, it has to be with a gel pen. But like you, my handwriting is TERRIBLE now because of the computer. Even bday cards are hard to send!