Friday, January 08, 2010

Changing Writing Instruments Can Freshen Your Writing

In this month's meeting of the writing group I attend, the leader told us to get out our notebooks and pens and said we had to write for 20 minutes with no prompt at all.  (For those who may not know, a "writing prompt" is a first line for a story, or a subject, or an idea to help you get started. For instance, a writing prompt might be, "I hate it when . . ." or "When I opened the door. . ." - something like that.)

It can be very hard to come up with something to write about in a short time like that. Some in the group worked on articles or stories they were already working on while others made up either fiction or non-fiction.

I had no idea what to write, but as soon as he told us to start, three words popped into my head: Ping. Ping. Ping. It was a sound - like a fingernail tapping on glass or the beeping signal from a machine that's it's finished making coffee, or the sound of metal cooling off. I had no idea what was pinging, but those three pings were my start. So I wrote "Ping. Ping. Ping." and then started describing what I see most mornings. In the story, I'm sitting at my kitchen counter working on my laptop while one cat snoozes and the other is rolling around and smiling (my hubby's cat does that a lot) when I hear the pings. I can't figure out where the sound's coming from. It's only three pings, so I go back to what I was doing. A while later, I hear the three pings again.

As I wrote, I kept describing what I was seeing, all very ordinary things. I mentioned in the story that I was working on my sales tax, a very dreary job. When "story me" found out what was making the pings, it was a life-changing event!

In 20 minutes in LONGHAND I wrote nearly 1000 words!! And it's an entertaining read (so far!) and was great fun to write! I transcribed it into the computer last night, cleaning up some messy phrases and changing a word here or there, but really, I didn't do much editing at all.  I was amazed that it was so clearly written the first time through.

The lesson we were supposed to learn from this was that sometimes the freshest writing comes from changing the instruments you use to write. If you're writing longhand, you don't sit and edit yourself as much as you do if writing on a computer. Stopping to edit your work stops the forward motion of the story. The first draft should be written straight through, beginning to end, with no stops for corrections if you can manage it. I know this is true, but lately, I've been spending a lot of time "fixing" the first part of a novel I'm working on. I think it's going to be a good story, but it isn't just flying out of my fingers like others have. This one's more like (*gasp!*) work! Of course, I'm inventing a new world, which makes things more complicated, but I think it's a good read and writing it is interesting to me. My hand cramps if I write by hand very long, and my handwriting is terrible, but perhaps my story would move along faster if I tried handwriting the section I'm stuck on. I just may try it. I'll let you know how it works!

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