It’s that time again. The time when I need to let go of the old book and get started on the next one. But there’s alway a bit of transitioning where I reorganize and declutter (only a bit) and then begin to nest so I can start something new. I’ve done this enough times to know this is my pattern but it still can take me by surprise when I wonder why I’m not working on a new book right this very minute. I remind myself it’s okay to take a few weeks off in-between projects. And besides, it’s not like I’m not doing anything for my career, there’s still all that publicity stuff that needs doing. I just found out I should be getting my author copies of my Robert Smalls book very soon which means I also need to think about publicity for that too. But I’m getting off track. I want to talk about paper. A note for anyone who read my old blog on blogspot. I am moving some of my favorite posts over here so they can all be in one place, tags and all that. When this happens, you might experience a bit of deja vu. Relax. It will all be okay. Oh and this is one of those posts.
All my fiction and poetry starts with a pen and a piece of paper. All of it. I can’t compose first draft fiction on the computer. After I have something to play with, something to type into the computer, then I can sometimes compose on it. But in the beginning it is just me, one of my favorite pens (cheap, medium point black ink) and usually a green steno pad. There is something about writing by hand that helps me bring fiction to life. As I listen to the character’s voice in my head, my hand guides the pen across the page.
Non-fiction is something different. I don’t know how to start non-fiction by hand. It is always composed on the computer from start to finish.
I’m not sure how these habits developed. Perhaps because I have written fiction and poetry the longest it is habit developed from childhood,a time that predates computers. Back then I used college ruled spiral notebooks, the 8-1/2 x 11 size, for anything. Now I’m picky about my notebooks, wanting them to be simple and the sort of thing that you wouldn’t expect to write anything important in. I buy pretty ones with hard covers that stay blank because I’m afraid I have to write only pretty words to match the cover. I want a notebook that offers no pressure. I can put enough of that on myself without any help. Most of the time that means a steno pad but a few years ago I found the best notebook, so good that I still think about taking it down to the copy shop that made it and asking them to make me 100 more just like it. It was thin, maybe 40 pages at the most, a bit smaller than 5×7, spiral bound and soft cover. It was a throw-away sort of thing that the copying place made for advertising. It was perfect. It felt just right. I wrote a lot of poems for my last book in it and started a new book in the last few pages. There are a few blanks spots left in the center and I’m tempted to go back and write there but I know I’ll get frustrated when I run out of room. I wish I knew what it was about it that seemed to bring the words out in me.
On my honeymoon I took, of course, a notebook with me “just in case” inspiration struck. It was the wrong tablet from the beginning because it was a fat steno pad, about 3 times as thick as the ones I usually used. I left it on the floor in the backseat of our rental car as we toodled around Hawaii. I had written a bit, a few pages. when a bottle of water spilled and soaked the bottom part of the pad. The top pages, the ones I had written on were fine. Actually all of the pad was fine once it dried but it didn’t dry flat and the pages had that wavy, weird feel to them that paper does once it has been wet and then dried out. For reasons I don’t understand I cried buckets over that stupid tablet that I knew I wouldn’t use because the paper felt funny. It was my poor new husband’s first introduction to the many adventures of living with a writer.
At work, in meetings, I find that the agenda pages are great for brainstorming my WIP. At my desk it is Post-it notes. In the car, when I forget a notebook,it might be the back of an envelope, napkins, and even once (to my husband’s horror) the palm of my hand because I was afraid I would forget a great title. Every Friday night I have to dump out my bag that I carry back and forth to work and dig out all the scraps of paper that have words on them, then go find a notebook to put them in.
For years I thought I was doing “it” all wrong. “It” meaning writing. I was sure that a real writer was wonderfully organized, always wrote in a beautiful leather bound notebook or at the computer, and never had to worry about losing a gem of a phrase because they couldn’t find the scrap of paper they wrote it on. But now I finally get it. I understand that this is all part of my personal process, the way that I gather words and ideas, play with them, compost them, and eventually, turn them into stories.
And I understand there is no right or wrong way to be a writer. There is only writing and not writing.