Essays, Misc, Stories

The Verdict is In: Writing by Hand Rocks

Mission accomplished. From handwriting the first draft of my current light science-fiction story, The Keeper and The Kept, to the current computer rendering, the deed is done. So what’s my verdict?

I freaking loved it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the early results and initial conclusions of this experiment here. But that was just the beginning. So I figured I’d complete the story by shedding some light on what I learned as well as what worked and why.

1)      The final version is vastly different from the handwritten version.

So what? I’d suspected that would happen anyway. In the past, this is often what happened between drafts—which is one big reason I was against working this way in the first place. I mean, why go through all that writing (and hand cramping!) only to end up with something totally different?

But I chose to look at it this way: the first hand-written draft is really just that: a draft. It’s the act of working out on paper by way of full scenes, vignettes or random bursts of inspired prose what is unclear in my head in preparation of the versions to come. It’s a means to do away with the performance anxiety of ‘getting it right on the first shot’ and letting inspiration lead the process rather than my head. Mistakes? Big deal. They stay in my notebook. No one sees them, not even me; once written down, I rarely look at the first draft again anyway. I take what I need and leave what I don’t.  

2)     This is a great way to write a long story. For those who have read my posted stories, you probably noticed that my sweet spot for stories is around the 500-2000 words mark. Due to lack of time and my desire to practice the craft as much as I could, I focused on writing whenever I could in focused bursts–2K was about my max before my brain went numb, anyway. I always used to wonder how people wrote stories so long!! But this is one way great way to do it. What I found, mostly because of the points above, the story took time to build, in this case, about 2 weeks. This allowed the story gestate. The longer process enabled me to understand about what it was I wanted to write, as well as figure out the characters, etc. so that when I sat to write at the computer, the story flowed so much easier. From a pen and paper version of maybe 1o pages (maybe 2500 words) came a story of 7ooo words. How exciting!

3)     This method allowed me to write a more complex story. As stated, this method took more time. However, there was another important bonus. On my downtime, the wheels kept turning in my subconscious and, at the same time, I was conscious of what was going on in the news. Suddenly I saw ways I could write a story that was socially relevant as well as entertaining, taking my writing to a new level. That was a really pleasant surprise.

So I suppose I should provide a sample of this story I keep talking about. 🙂 Below is a portion of section two of The Keeper and the Kept. (this is still a draft version)

Part 2

“What the hell are you doing?” Argus shouted at Leo from across the mess hall. Leo was a botanist, long-haired and lazy. He enjoyed all things plants, especially if he could put it in a pipe and smoke it. “Haven’t you got it in your head yet that you’re in space? Put that out! Fire does weird things out here!”

“Ah, shut it! One smoke won’t do any harm,” Leo called back. “See?” He blew out the fire-stick and then stuck the tip in suppressant gel, an extra precaution. “It’s out, alright? No harm done.”

Argus scowled and shook his head. He was a nervous type, always seeing death and ghosts where there weren’t any, at least none that anyone with an ounce of sense and a set of balls could see. Still, reliable people who followed the rules were the ones other people cried for when things went wrong. ‘If only so-and-so were here, this never would have happened!’ they cried while rueing how horribly they’d treated that very loser/savior. Jed gave Argus an encouraging look.

Argus went on. “You just never know, is all. I mean, it only takes one moment of carelessness–”

“I’ll be careful, okay? Geez, quit your crying, already. This is our downtime. Try to relax a little, if you even know how.” Leo sat back in his chair and inhaled deeply from the pipe. He smiled and looked into space, Argus and his stodgy worries already forgotten.

Unsatisfied, Argus was about to retort when Jed cut in. “Just let him be, man. Dude’s hard-headed.”

“More like stoned, if you ask me.”

“That too. Either way, you’re wasting your time.”

Argus glanced up from twirling his tin mug between his fingers, looking at Jed through long, white-blond bangs. “Idiot. For a scientist he sure takes things pretty lightly.”

“Most of us are scientists, good ones, even if we do work for the Cartel,” Jed said.

Argus smiled, but it was thin. “I suppose for this kind of job, you have to expect an ass or two. You look like one of the decent ones. Haven’t seen you around much.”

“Uh, yeah. I stick mostly to engineering, sometimes the lounge when I feel I need a little camaraderie.”

Argus snorted. He gestured discreetly at a few of the women sitting and talking in groups around the lounge. “Looks like you have found ‘camaraderie’ quite often over the last few weeks.”

Jed reddened but kept his easy smile. “And you said you hadn’t seen me around much but you’ve obviously been watching me.”

“Ah,” Argus said, with a wave of his hand, “I just pay attention to things. To people. Goes with being a psychologist. It’s my job to ensure the well-being of the crew.”

“I see.”

“Still, there’s one lady you haven’t seemed to make any headway with.”

Both looked towards the door when it slid open to let Saana in. Her dark skin glistened, as though she had been running, or maybe just fresh out of the shower, and her close-fitting jumpsuit, standard issue for mechanics, hugged her figure in all the right places.

From www.ssofc.com
From http://www.ssofc.com

Saana was a pretty woman and good at her job, but damn she was cold. Atmospheric interference prevented sensors from getting a clear read on Ataxa, but it was believed to be a cold planet, rolling with snow drifts, glaciers, and ice floes, and pitted with patches of tundra in areas it got warm enough for basic forms of life to grow, if only for a few months a year. But Jed didn’t doubt that, side by side, Saana’s frostiness rivalled the planet’s, maybe even surpassed it. Hadn’t aboriginals survived in the arctic for centuries? Who could survive that woman’s cold?

Their eyes met. When the passive mask of Saana’s face cracked, Jed thought she might smile, but she averted her eyes and went to sit at a quiet spot by the portal.

“I wonder what her deal is, anyway?” Argus commented.

“What?”

“That impenetrable façade she puts on. She’s efficient, intelligent, and keeps out of trouble, but something tells me it’s for show.”

“You have her file. You must know.”

“A file’s only as good as what it contains. You have to know a person to really ‘get’ them. She won’t let anyone close. I’ve tried.”

“That’s because you’re a psychologist,” Jed concluded. “No one wants to feel like they’re being analysed.”

“You’re talking to me.”

“But you’re not analyzing me—are you?”

Argus smiled. “I am what I am.” He put up his hands, pleading for patience, when Jed began to protest. “Look, maybe she’s one of those Kept. Think about it: she’s alone, on this near hopeless, off the books mission, and with that coloring—”

Now Jed leaned in. “Why me? What do you know?”

“I know that out of everyone here, you’re probably the best one the get through to her.”

Jed frowned. It was unsettling to know that Argus, a stranger, knew that much about him. Still, he had enough presence of mind to not let on that the fact bothered him.

“Anyway, every time she’s around, you suddenly get quiet and your eyes follow her around the room.”

“I do not!” Jed protested, louder than intended.

Laughing a little, Argus said, “Hey, I’m just telling you what I’ve seen. Anyway, she’s not so bad. Aloof, yes, but she works hard. Maybe she just doesn’t like people much. Well, maybe not people like us. You know how things are on Earth. Maybe you could smooth things over a bit, in the interest of creating a healthier work environment for everyone.”

Jed almost reminded the psychologist that he was as white as he was, but let it go in light of the rest of what Argus had said. Jed did know how things were on Earth. It was why he’d left in the first place, but that wasn’t anything anyone had to know. Though, somehow, it looked like Argus did.

Copyright@ 2014 by Dyane Forde

Thanks for reading! Drop me a line below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Essays

Never Say Never, or You Just Might Find Yourself Writing Longhand–Shiver!

Rarely will you hear me say I will never do something. Why? Because you never know when those words will come back to bite you in your plump, writer’s behind. What follows is just such an example. 

I haven’t written a story by hand in ages. Once I got my word processor (years ago!) and, later, my own computer followed by my laptop, I left the archaic days of paper and pen behind, and happily. Back then, I hated that my wrist got sore, and that weird callous on my middle finger was a source of pride (Yay! I’m a writer!), but also annoyance (Ugh, how to ruin a good-looking pair of hands!). Besides, it was slow. My mind would be three sentences ahead before my hand would catch up, which always resulted in chicken scratch even I couldn’t figure out when it came to revising or transcribing to the computer. Good riddance and no looking back!  Futurama Yes, the computer was a godsend. Quick, easy, and waste-free, it was a breeze to write and edit, and it required no transcribing—another thing I hated about writing longhand. 

But, well…you see, I’ve…um…(coughs)– I’ve gone back to longhand writing. There. I said it.

In an older post, I hinted at it, as I find writing poetry by hand helpful in getting me ‘unstuck’—maybe it’s the fact I’m creating in an environment different from the one I’m stuck in (bent over paper with a pen in hand versus hunched over a keyboard staring at a blank screen), or perhaps, as it has been suggested, that handwriting uses a different part of the brain than typing. Regardless, I have found it successful. For poetry. 

So, how is it that I’m finding myself writing a story by hand?  I’ve mentioned that I have tendonitis in my ‘mouse’ hand/elbow, and, lately, I’ve been bothered by back and neck problems on the other side. I write for work and then I go home and write for play. To deal with this, I decided to ease up on writing and focus on other things instead: reading, editing, beta reading etc, to still be in the writing head space while resting my body.

But I’m still driven to create.  So, here I am, back at the beginning, holding a pen in one hand and bracing a lined page with the other, just like I did in the first grade when I wrote my first story. And I have to say, I’m liking it. 😉 

From chronicle.com
From chronicle.com

Some thoughts:

  • I’ve discovered that the brain is pretty remarkable, and this exercise made me realize just how fast it can be. As I’m getting my words on paper, I’m conscious of just how many decisions I am making before the pen hits the page: Is this the right word? No? Okay, should I change it? To what? Or should I just keep going and correct it later? …How does this section relate to what’s coming? Do I even know what’s coming? No? Who cares? Stop thinking, don’t self-editing, just write, write, write, get it down and correct later. Write, write, write! Try it. It’s pretty amazing.
  • Going slow isn’t bad. I like to be productive. I don’t have a lot of spare time, so the fact that a computer lets me bang out a story quickly and in one shot is very satisfying. However, this process is changing the way I approach my writing sessions: being forced to write in short bursts before my hand wears out forces me to think first about what I want to get down on paper. And between sessions, I think about what should happen next, rather than typing whatever feels right at the moment because I’m on a roll or because I just want to have something finished by the end of the session. It’s a different way of writing for me, and though it’s hard to slow down, I find this process pretty neat.

Anyhoo, those are my thoughts on this. What do you think? Do you write by hand or were you like me, spurning it with every ounce in your body? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Oh, and I’d share a little of the story I am working on, but well, it’s on paper. 😉 Maybe next time!