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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, I’ve rediscovered writing in long-hand…..

…..something I’d always done up until about seven years ago, when I switched entirely to writing my novels and scripts directly onto a Word or Final Draft document.  This was in large part due to a trauma that affected me in such a way that writing in long-hand felt too intimately connected to my brain.  It would take three novels and a stage script before I found my way back to using pen on lined paper again.

Imagine trying to implement corrections using a typewriter!

I think it would be fair to say that the project that drew me back to writing in long-hand was, perhaps, a little ironic.  The setting of the story is in the 1920s, decades before computers would replace the typewriter, a time when pencil or pen was also a more commonly used method to write down ideas, create poetry, stories and develop essays.  This particular story is about passion, sensuality and love between two people, a particularly intimate story that has presented many challenges.

Pen sketch; note the rather arrogant look in his eye.

And that’s how writing long-hand is to me – an act of pure intimacy between the mind and the page.  I love watching as the ink swirls across the page, forming words or shapes or quick sketches of horses.  It’s almost never planned, those words or images – I often allow myself to go into a kind of trance and allow my subconscious to go where it wills.  There’s something hypnotic about the way my pen feels in my hand, pressed against paper, as I try to keep up with the story playing out in my imagination.

Which is not always easy to do.

And which is always the challenge.

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So, I have my favorite tools of the trade……

……for writing, some of which are easy to throw into my backpack and some that require a little more planning before leaving the house.

What will you find in my back pack? Typically, a couple of notebooks or blank composition books, loose leaf, college-lined paper in a folder and a couple of paperbacks (fiction or non-fiction or both) to escape into when the words fail to materialize. Open up the smaller pocket of my pack and there are pens of various colors – I use black or dark blue for writing the story. The other colors I use to insert notes or questions in the margins about what I’d written, which makes it easy to see. When I travel, I take my laptop or netbook to transcribe what I’d written in longhand to the manuscript I’m currently working on.

Because I have a budget, I tend to find my pens, notebooks and composition books at any local dollar store. They work the same and are easy on the wallet. Occasionally, however, I will indulge and buy some really nice blank books at places like Barnes & Noble. Those usually end up as gifts to fellow writers or to those who had expressed a desire to write.

I prefer writing in longhand, as I find that I tend to sink into the world of my story and characters a little faster. The downside is that I can’t keep up with my thoughts and my hand pays the price in stiffness and cramping. Unlike Bobbi Anderson in Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers, I haven’t found a way to write via telepathy to my typewriter (or computer, for that matter).

What are your favorite writing tools?

Left to right - Laptop, blank book, netbook, pens, typewriter, composition books.
Left to right – Laptop, blank book, netbook, pens, typewriter, composition books.

So, John Lennon once said……

………that every child is an artist until he is told he isn’t. It doesn’t have to be an actual person saying this to an actual child (or an adult) for them to feel ‘not good enough’ at being creative. A first attempt can be pretty intimidating, especially if this is a new experience for you or you’re trying something different. Comparing yourself to another’s artwork can be pretty tempting to do, but it’s counter-productive and wreaks havoc on your self-esteem.
By all means, look at another artist’s paintings or another writer’s work, but use their final product as a tool to guide you. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa from 1503 to 1506 and even then, it’s suspected he worked on it as late as 1517. Look at the back of any Stephen King novel and you’ll see two sets of dates – the start date and the finish date. It takes King anywhere from three to five years to write each novel and he works on more than one at the same time.
I’ve always regarded being creative as something akin to archaeology. You have a plot laid out, the tools to uncover it, and an idea of what it looks like. As with a chisel and hammer, you take pen and paper (or canvas and brush) and start to dig. You don’t find the whole thing right away – maybe a piece here, a fragment there. You follow a line that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and then find that it splits off into a different direction. Eventually, you have an almost complete skeleton to speculate and ponder over.
Are you finished? Hardly. The best thing to do with a roughed out draft or sketch is to set it aside for a few days. Then the real work begins. Details start to emerge that you didn’t see before. The piece which appeared to be apropos of nothing has now found its proper place. The fragment that didn’t seem to relate to anything is suddenly a crucial plot point.
This is where opening up to your creative self can be a little terrifying. It’s about letting go of the inner critic, ignoring that little voice that says you can’t do it, and taking that huge step forward. Because what you’re trying to unearth isn’t a work of art or the next Great American Novel. What you’re doing is sifting through the doubts and worries and ‘I can’ts’ to find that young artist and say, “I am an artist and I can.”

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

So, I’ve been working on a project……

……….that is so far outside my comfort zone that it makes the Andromeda Galaxy look like it’s just a stone’s throw away from Earth and easily reached via space shuttle.

Ironically, it’s become by far the most fun to write and, rather than write it strictly on my computer, I’ve gone back to old school methods and am writing in long-hand. Although I’ve only written about four or five pages (most of it exposition as I work my way into it), the catalyst action for the lead character has been re-written to suit her last name (Falls) and her subsequent journey of self-discovery has begun.

There is a kind of magic to writing in long-hand.  – the feel of the pen in my hand, the way it traces out words on paper, the way letters emerge and link together to form words, how the paper makes a crinkling sound with the weight of those hand-written words.

Of course, the downside is that when you write by hand, cramps in fingers and palm will ensue. I suggest ice wrapped in a towel to relieve the pain.

So there is an interesting dichotomy here – the magic and comfort of writing in long-hand and the act of tackling a genre that is outside my comfort zone. Rather than the removed medium of a pixelated Word document on a computer, using pen and paper creates a more immediate experience with the story (and lots of scribbled notes and corrections in purple ink in the margins as I go along).  I suspect that there is a subconscious point to this particular choice of writing method and the story itself, but I’m content to allow it to reveal itself on its own.

And, given the need to create heightened sensations in this project, it’s more than appropriate to revel in the sensuality of ink revealing itself on paper.

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