Strange Writing Habits

I’ve never needed a lot to write. Or at least it doesn’t seem like a lot to me.  I need:

  1. My own space.  A familiar, comfortable place where I can go every day.  I don’t write well on vacation or at somebody else’s desk, although I valiantly try (my production is generally slightly less than half what it is at home).  Although I can adapt to a new space relatively quickly, it can’t be a new one every day.
  2. My own computer. With a regular mouse, not a roller ball or a laptop ball.
  3. A chair that’s reasonably comfortable to sit in with my wrists higher than the keyboard.
  4. My thesaurus and dictionary within reach.
  5. Relative quiet.  Music is OK; somebody talking softly is OK.

I think that just about sums it up.

I used to poo-poo people who needed a particular place to write.  A knew somebody who went to St. Thomas for a week and wrote 200 pages and then they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write another word unless they were overlooking the beach.  Now I’m more forgiving.  Whatever works for you, go for it.  The creative process is unique and fleeting, so if you have a solution, good for you.That’s not to say that I don’t secretly think you’re a prima donna for needing a beach house to write in.  On the other hand, you may think I’m a prima donna because I don’t write well in somebody else’s space.

Some people can only write first thing in the morning; by 10am, they might as well quit since they’re not doing any good anyway.  Others are night owls, and the juices don’t flow until it’s approaching the bewitching hour.

Some people can only write with a pencil on a legal-sized yellow pad.

What, are you crazy?  You’re going to HAND WRITE an entire novel, and then what?  Have somebody else type it so you can edit it?  Do it yourself?

yellow padOK, I don’t understand those people.  But that’s the way all novels used to be written.  War and Peace, for example.  And not even with a ball point pen.  And not only that, but Tolstoy was working under the additional handicap of writing in Russian.  Man, I’d never get anything done if I had to write with a fountain pen in Russian.

But I sort of understand.  The mechanics of getting words out of your head and onto the paper mustn’t interfere with the process of the words forming in your head in the first place.  If writing on a PC does that, well it sucks to be you.  Grab that pen and paper and get busy.

I did all of my early writing before the days of the personal computer.  I learned to type in 7th grade–we actually took a class called “typing,” and we had to type 35 words a minute on an old manual Royal typewriter to pass.  That’s one of those machines only found in museums today where a bell rang when you got near the end of the line and you had to reach up and hit the return bar to slide the carriage back to the left margin.  We used to correct errors with a typewriter eraser, since neither correction tape nor White-out had been invented yet.

royal typewriterShortly after, my family upgraded to an IBM Selectric.  Weighed about 40 pounds, but a spectacular device as long as you didn’t have to haul it around.  I used that machine for years and loved it, particularly once they got around to inventing correction tape.In those days, we actually wrote “drafts.”  Typed out a version, went over it to improve the wording, typed out another draft, went over that to correct mistakes, typed out a final copy.  Took a lot of time, but a lot of things got written than way.  Beat the heck out of writing with a pencil.

Some people have to listen to music to write.  Sometimes only Bach will do, or Pink Floyd.  Others have a particular pair of slippers that must be worn.

I say, if it works, go for it (except maybe the pencil and yellow pad).

balcony beach view


18 thoughts on “Strange Writing Habits

  1. Re the old-fashioned typewriter: Recently read that there didn’t use to be nearly so many repetitive motion injuries when you got an automatic rest at the end of each line while the carriage returned.

    BTW, where did you find a photo of a L-handed carriage return typewriter? The photo isn’t reversed because “Royal” isn’t backwards.

  2. Typing class was my only B in high school & I still hate Mrs. Matuga for giving me that B. We sat in rows each with a manual typewriter before us. We typed on yellow paper, had warm-up exercises, timed sessions & had to count characters & spaces then divided by 2 to center things on the page!Recently my best friend & fellow cheerleader from high school moved & Mrs. Matuga is now her neighbor! She said she loved giving us B’s–took us down a peg! Anyway, is it the place or frame of mind that makes writing easier? Or are the 2 so intertwined that it does not matter? I know that I work on my laptop in many different places–airplanes, airport lounges, hotels, multiple desks in our home, multiple offices around the world, back patio, etc. Sometimes I can whip out presentations as fast as I can type & other times–nothing! May also have something to do when how may days or hours until the deadline . . .

    • It’s the frame of mind, of course. But place can be so useful or harmful to the state of mind that it might as well be place. You’re a seasoned business traveler; you guys have to be able to work on your laptop anywhere or you can’t survive.

  3. That last picture seems like a slice of heaven. I think I could do a lot of writing in that chair.

    For me, I have to have a degree of quiet, solitude and a minimum of distractions. Music has never been of any value to me and I find myself ending up listening instead of writing.

    Public places seem to be a problem as well. The first night of this Nanowrimo thingy, we had a Woodlands Write-In at IHOP to kick things off at midnight. After two hours there, I had 300 words written, thinking “oh my God… what have I gotten myself into?” But at two AM I went home and had my first 1700 words written before I went to bed at four. I was alone and my wife was in bed (no asking me to take out the trash or unload the dishwasher) and I could just sit at my desk and hammer out words.

    I’ve learned over the course of this last month that the best time for me is when there is nothing hanging over my head, no deadline and no pressure. Just time to sit down and enjoy my time with my characters.

    I learned to type (officially) in typing class on a Selectric. Of course I’d been playing around on my Dad’s TRS-80 then the home built Apple II+ my cousin built for us. But that was all more coding than pure writing.

    All my college papers were done on a Commodore 64.

  4. My must haves . . . solitude, very low background noise, and comfortable clothes.

    From Hemingway’s (very short) Nobel acceptance speech: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

  5. For me:

    1. Comfortable? Not too comfortable, else I’ll want to do something other than write. I write well on vacation, at the airport, at a loud club, you name it.
    Space: that doesn’t matter. Keyboard is what matters. A keyboard which doesn’t allow me to put the words down as quickly as I need to prohibits my productivity, leads to frustration, which leads to nothing. I quit.
    2. My own computer? Absolutely, though it can be one of three and that’s fine. Preferably all on the same version of MS Word (they are).
    3. Chairs? Anything that allows me to type at the pace I need in order to be productive.
    4. My thesaurus and dictionary are online, with the MSWord as a backup.
    5. Quiet? Not necessary. I’ve enjoyed working in a club while drunk people throw darts and tell off-color jokes. Until they disrupt me. Then I put the earphones in.
    6. Favorite writing place? The college library, overlooking the season’s foliage. I like the young adult areas but I don’t always fit in. 🙂 Also a nice, busy, and yet cozy coffee shop with the accoutrement of food, beverage, electricity, and the security to leave my work there while I use the restroom

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