Thursday, November 24, 2011

[November 24th] On Writing Longhand and the Importance of Words

I’ve not spoken about writing in a long time, because I consider the craft of writing as a rather personal experience. My main understanding is that every story is different and every writer is unique in his/her thoughts, inspirations and techniques are strictly individual. From where I’m standing, I’d rather not dish out advise. There are plenty of websites, which provide you with countless posts on the technical aspects of writing. Magical Words serves advice like a petite French restaurant; compact portions sculpted to beauty. Chuck Wendig overtakes the table as an Italian seven course meal, calorie rich and dripping sauce.

In that metaphor, what am I? I’m just a story in the kitchen and I’m fine to be one. Recently, I had to switch from writing on the keyboard to writing longhand, because my day job demands me typing. The implications are two-fold. First, my fingers are already tired from hitting away at the keys and second, my brain associates this time of writing as a chore*. Writing as an act and a process, sitting down and typing words, grew to be tedious and my ideas, no matter how bright and shiny and witty suffered, when it came to give them shape. 

Write or Die is an excellent software, if your brain has already swollen with the pregnancy of a story, which your fingers desperately want to deliver, but not when your story has its own umbilical cord tied around its neck. I needed c-section and writing longhand functioned as such**. Yes, now everything is a thousand times slower. Yes, I have to actually make more time to write the same amount of words I crank out for an hour. But. The big But. I place the right words, I add texture to my story I can’t do when facing the white screen or race with my fingers, because everyone types faster than they write. Sometimes it’s all about the physical presence of the notebook that helps me get my idea out. 

I’m feeling a bit guilty that I’m choosing impracticality over efficiency, which doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational. This sense of guilt is stupid, because it implies that you’re racing against something or someone. Is writing a race? Well, kinda. It’s a race against death. Everything is racing with death. Everything knows that it’ll lose a race with the big, underlined and bolded THE END; it’s more of a matter of how much gets done. This brings me down to the devil: quantity and boy do we know about quantity. Word counts, word meters and the month of the word count tracking NaNoWriMo***. 

Quantity is a fixation. In “Booklife” Jeff VanderMeer pins this quest for wordcount as a goal that is hollow, pardon, I’m paraphrasing from memory. VanderMeer spends some time to the importance of the right words and his points are excellent. While I understand how setting a goal, which has to do with getting a set number of words down, helps track progress, this is a ‘surface’ progress. First drafts become our arenas to suck and fail, but I feel as though advice to allow yourself to fail during first drafts is misinterpreted as ‘suck, but just get it out, doesn’t matter how much you do suck’. In my mind, this conspiracy theory emerges, where this predominant attitude about sucking has joined this fetish for metric measurements in a craft, which is not meant to welcome math****. 

The right words matter even in a first draft, because later on, during revisions, you’ll find that you have a solid first draft that needs little modifications on a linguistic level. That the prose actually helps you find the right direction for the story and relatively ease your journey in the land of Edits. Sometimes you can suck too much to know how to fix a story. And all the time you saved dashing through your first draft [and more] will go into your editing. 

What do you do when crafting first drafts? Do you stop to think or go where the hands take you? 

*I’d like to take the opportunity to distance away from my brain as we never have seen eye to eye on a various subjects. 
** I disturbed myself with this metaphor, so I will stop with it. 
*** Dudes, I’m far from criticizing NaNo for anything else. I still believe in its key value, to tech persistence and consistency when writing. 
**** I hate math, so there you go.