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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Thumbnail Dipped in Tar - Writing without technology

“And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
(From Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Paterson)

I have appalling handwriting, the product, of three different education systems during my formative years. My handwriting is so bad that even my then boyfriend (now husband), to whom I had written several passionate love letters while he was away, commented he could only read every other line. I gave up after that. I don’t think he’s had a love letter since! Even my father (hardly one to point fingers in the handwriting stakes) commented my writing looked like a “thumbnail dipped in tar”.

Owing to a complete failure at mathematics, I was banished to the “commercial stream” at school where I was taught touch typing, such a useful skill for a gal, along with shorthand and bookkeeping (I didn't actually do shorthand although it would have been very useful!). A university education was not high on my school’s ambitions for its ladies in those days. Typing proved to be the one really useful skill I ever learned at school (thank you Mrs. Spence) - and sewing (thank you, Mrs. Plummer).

University came and I bashed out my essays on a portable typewriter, fearing for my marks if any poor benighted lecturer had to read my handwriting. Exams were problematical. Poor handwriting and time pressure… I wonder how much that accounted for some fairly ordinary marks. Was my brilliance overcome by frustration as a tired examiner, burning the midnight oil opened my book?

Hooray for computers. I was an early adopter of the “word processor”. My useful skill of touch typing came to the fore and starting with Wordstar, I moved to Wordperfect 5.1 (still IMO the best word processing program EVER)and have progressed through all the stage of Microsoft Word. I write my books using a combination of Scrivener and Word.

Then of course along came the internet…and google… and email… and Facebook… and Twitter… and Wikipedia. My life is now fully contained in the Cloud which moves from my phone to my iPad to my PC or Mac notebook. I am a 100% early adoptive cyber chick.

You can imagine my horror when I arrived at the airport for our recent holiday and realised I had left my hand luggage containing (apart from the weekly Bombay Gin supply), my iPad and bluetooth keyboard which I had packed knowing I had 24 hours by myself and intending to do some writing. With a new book percolating in my mind, all I had in the way of technological assistance was my phone. Quelle disaster!

A writing pad, a pen and a cute hotel room...
This meant drastic action… Here I was alone in a nice hotel room with 24 hours of uninterrupted writing time. Even the wretched Television didn’t work and the cricket finished early. I purchased a clean new pad of paper and a pen and sat in my hotel looking at it. I didn’t even know where to start! I uncapped the pen and did, as “Alice” suggested, I started at the beginning and went on till I came to the end. Well not quite… but in that short time in the hotel room, I developed a plotting process for pantsers (more on that in future posts) and using this prototype, I actually plotted this new book. With no technological distractions the ideas flowed out into a mind map and there was the very bare bones of Book 2 of the Harcourt Chronicles. All I had to do was write it… I turned to a fresh page of the writing pad and began…
“…Above the drone of Pastor Newington’s voice, a low rumble, like thunder, disturbed the drowsing congregation. Every face turned to the window above the altar which had once boasted a fine representation of the Resurrection, but now where the it had not been boarded over, the cold wind whistled through in the wintertime….”

And thus I wrote 2500 largely illegible words which I now have to transcribe into Scrivener (using the new template I worked out). A thoroughly good day’s work.

So the moral of this story… sometimes, just sometimes, walk away from technology, get a pen and paper out and let the story flow. There is something to be said for that magical connection between the hand, the pen and the paper. Whether I have the fortitude to do it again… remains to be seen.

How Alison saw herself...

...What she really looked like....

I know many writers do still write their first draft longhand. As I also now suffer from arthiritis in my right thumb, the thought of 50,000 words of longhand fills me with terror. What do you think?

And in other news, my latest release CLAIMING THE REBEL'S HEART (Book 1 in the Harcourt Chronicles), is officially released on January 22 but is available for pre-purchase on KINDLE and SMASHWORDS.