Writing Instructions: How do you write? (I wanted to know how J.K. Rowling wrote, and I couldn’t find anything so I decided to write an entry about this.)
How do I write? This is a question that used to intimidate me when I was writing my academic essay for my thesis in Creative Writing. It is actually a very simple question, but back then I thought I had to answer it in a very “writer-ly” way i.e. intelligent, full of insights, artistic, metaphorical, poetic. Now I just want to get into the nitty-gritty details of how I write.
The ball pens
I am very particular with ball pens. I don’t like gel pens or like sign pens (although I use sign pens for “special occasions”. Usually for poetry or for notebooks with thick nice paper, which are usually cheap-ass imitations of moleskin notebooks. As long as they have no lines, and the paper is smooth and thick, in my mind that’s like moleskin even if it’s really not).
I like pens that glide across the page. I don’t like pens that feel like they are scratching the paper. I do not like G-tech pens.
My favorite brands are: star pentel, faster, faber castel, and pilot. There’s one more ball pen that I like, but I forgot what it’s called. It’s like cheap.
My favorite is star pentel, but I also like to use pilot ball pens when there’s a “special occasion.” What’s qualifies as a “special occasion”? I don’t really have a set of rules. I just have a feeling that I want this writing session to be special.
I often use black ink. Sometimes I use blue, but that is very rare.
I lose ball pens a lot, so I buy lots of ball pens in one go. Ideally, I carry more than one ball pen unless my bag is small.
I never use pencils because as time passes, pencil marks fade, and it is hard to read what I wrote. I realized this because when I was a kid I used to write in my diary with a pencil (because kids are usually taught to write using pencils first before they get to use ball pens). Years after, when I was already writing with a ball pen, I revisited my old entries and I could hardly read the pencil marks. I had to write over all those pencil marks using ball pens just so I could preserve my old entries. Some words I could not understand anymore, so I interpreted them the best that I could. From then on, I never used pencils for writing.
Paper or Computer?
I like paper. More often than not I like papers with lines. If I am writing on paper with no lines, then usually I’m writing poetry. I like standard intermediate pads. However, I do not like intermediate pads that are not so white or are too thin. I also use yellow pad. There is a kind of pad paper in the Loyola Bookstore that I really like. It’s almost the size of an intermediate pad, but the paper is prettier.
Sometimes I like writing on notebooks. I pick a notebook and use that for a certain project like a story or an essay, and I write all my ideas for that project in that notebook. If what I am writing are poems or songs, I write them in notebooks too.
Nowadays, I write on the computer more. It’s inconvenient to write something out on paper, then transfer it to the computer, so I just go straight to the computer. I was not taught the proper way to type, so I started typing using just two fingers. Now I use more than one finger, but I still do not know the proper way to type.
Since it is hard to type, shouldn’t that discourage me from writing straight into the computer? It doesn’t. What it does is it makes copying the text and typing it on the computer feel more tedious. When I write on the computer, I am usually thinking of the next thing to say, so my concentration is not on the act of typing. However, when I am copying something, I have to glance back and forth from the paper and the computer, and since I am not thinking of things to say, merely copying the words from a piece of paper, I am more aware of the act of typing.
Sometimes I want to write longhand again. J.K. Rowling wrote the whole Harry Potter series that way. I guess she’s older so writing longhand has become part of her habits as a writer, but I grew up in the modern times when computers are more accessible. I spent most of my high school and college years typing up papers and that maybe ingrained the habit of writing on the computer.
I read an article that your brain benefits more when you write longhand than when you type, so it’s healthier for the brain to write longhand. I constantly hear writers say that they prefer longhand because it seems like they’re more connected, that writing feels more intimate when they do it longhand. However, writing longhand gets me lazy to transfer it to the computer, so that’s not good for me.
When I was a kid I used to write on paper. When there were too many erasures, I would rewrite the whole thing and then add the next part of the story. Having to delete and revise is easier on the computer. I like seeing things neat. When I re-read something, I have to feel the flow, and I don’t get to do that when there are too many erasures that I have to skip through.
Sometimes I also need to insert another paragraph in a draft, so I would put an asterisk or other signs wherever the new paragraph needs to be inserted, and then write the new paragraph on another piece of paper. This became problematic because if I had to flip through several pages, looking for the inserted paragraph, then this disrupts my ability to gauge the flow of the article or story. Cut and paste commands on the computer makes things simpler.
The downside is when you erase something on the computer, it’s erased forever. When you cross something out on a page, and then later realize that you wanted to put that back, all you have to do is look, and you can make out what you wrote even if there’s a line running across the words.
That is why when I write on the computer, I have a separate file for the draft. Anything I erase, I paste it to the draft file, and I can retrieve it later if I need it. However, sometimes when I think that my current revision plan is good, I forget to copy the original paragraph to the draft file, and I just delete it. I can undo it if I realize right away that I need to put it back, but if I realize it later on, I can never put it back. Sometimes I remember it so I can re-type it, but sometimes I don’t and those paragraphs are lost forever.
I also have a software program called Scrivener, and it’s very helpful for editing long pieces. You can take a snapshot of what you are writing before you change it, and if you decide to revert to the first draft, you can use your snapshots to roll back to the original.
The advantages and the disadvantages of writing on the computer lies in the internet.
I am a very visual person. I actually like watching movies more than reading books. This is bad because I’m a writer.
Visual references help me describe something. When I can’t describe something in my diary, I just write ‘it looked like this,’ then I draw a picture.
Drawing before I write also helps me. It is an aid to my imagination, and, at the same time, drawing serves as a break from writing. I like using colored pentel pens, colored pencils, or colored pens (usually gel pens) for my drawings. I usually draw using a pen not a pencil. The drawing need not be perfect, so I do not need to erase it or perfect it. It is just crude, raw drawing.
As a kid, I’d start doodling at the back of my notebook if my teacher was boring. I also had a sketchbook where I kept some of my drawings. When I draw people, I purposely draw them deformed and ugly because I can’t draw, and when I integrate the deformed drawings with interesting designs, it actually looks good to me. Then again, I’m not an artist.
There have been four people who have seen my doodles, and they said they liked it. Two were when I was a kid, and they were my friends. Two were when I was in college, and one was my friend, and the other was a random classmate.
I always wish I knew how to paint. Painting seems amazing. I never really tried it. I always want to, but I never did. Maybe I will. I can’t imagine how painters can create such beautiful images. I think the act of painting is something so mythical, spiritual–something I cannot grasp.
So back to the internet. Since I have limited skills in drawing, searching for images online can help me write. Sometimes the images are for design references. For example, I want to describe a unique playground, but I don’t know what to put in it. I research some pictures of playgrounds, and combine the designs I see and add some designs that I have imagined.
Sometimes I don’t know the name for a certain thing, so I research about them, like I’ll research about car parts. Usually Google has pictures of parts of a car with the parts labeled.
The internet also helps me in language. Besides the usual dictionary and thesaurus, I also research jargon. Sometimes it’s not terms but just a certain vocabulary. An economist and a religious leader might both speak English, but they would prefer to use different words to express the same thought. Sometimes I think that the best way to tackle a certain part of my piece is to mimic the vocabulary of a certain field. For example, if I want my writing to mimic a lab report, I will look for maybe articles or even just a list of terms or words used in lab reports.
Sometimes if I am not sure about my grammar, I search it in Google to check. For example if I’m not sure if the correct phrase is “On the table” or “In the table,” I would search it in Google. If the phrase turns up as a title or a part of an article in a credible looking site, like a well-known newspaper or magazine, or if a lot of searches turn up with this phrase then I deduce that it is the right phrase to use.
I remember how I used to write when I was young and somehow I lost it. I want to go back to that time when I could write for hours. I would write non-stop for two days. Maybe I’d only take a break to eat and take a bath. Now my concentration is not so good. I easily get distracted. I blame Facebook. I blame Plants Versus Zombies. I blame Cityville.
When I was a kid, what was important to me is to write something with heart. I could usually feel it if a piece of writing is dead or if it has heart. I want to go back to that passionate writing.
When I entered college, I did not know what I wanted to do, and that’s why I kept shifting. I always loved to write, but I never planned on becoming a writer. I guess I always knew what I wanted, but I needed overwhelming misery to wake me up from the illusion that I have something to lose if I followed my dreams.
That spell of misery was the period when I had a string of different courses. I did not have time to write, and I was miserable. When I finally shifted to Creative Writing, I was in my third year in college.
It was hard to write again because I spent two years suppressing my need to express things on paper. I think up to now I’m still recovering from those two years of repression. What helped me write again were the morning pages. This is the exercise that I learned from my poetry teacher Lawrence Ypil who learned it from Julia Cameron’s book Artist’s Way.
Basically, you have to write three pages worth of intermediate pad paper the moment you wake up. The goal of this exercise is to clear the muck in your subconsciousness. It’s also a tool for recovery. It allows you to freely create.
I also follow Natalie Goldberg’s rule “Keep your hand moving,” which means that even if I can’t write anymore, I just write random sentences until another idea comes to my mind. More often than not, even when I can’t think of anything else to say, something comes out.
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