Friday, June 24, 2011

Low-Tech Writer

Melinda Palacio

I am a low-tech writer. I prefer pen and paper, instead of keying directly into the computer. Even when I compose a long and important email, I prefer the fluidity of ink across the page. If life were slower and less hectic, I would lean over a fountain pen instead of liquid gel, roller or ball point. However, I don’t have time to fiddle with refilling the ink cartridge or cleaning the ink stains off my face and fingers. What I do have time for is rewriting. After the second or third revision on paper, I’ve memorized what I will later type into the computer. People who know me often wonder how I read my own handwriting. My initial quick fire writing is illegible even to myself. The hieroglyphic letters are clues to what I have written; my handwriting is that bad. At least someone figured out I needed glasses by the time I was ten years old.

The best part of using low-tech pen and paper is the lack of distractions. Email and facebook friends don’t ever pop up when I’m alone with my notebook. I also keep my iphone in a different room when I sit down with my notebook and write a new scene or poem. Learning how to turn off email and internet distractions is essential when composing. I used to think that multi-tasking was something to be proud of. I kept a separate computer screen open for instantly responding to email. When there were more minutes spent on responding to tagged photos and requests for friends and linking in to a net that threatened to strangle me, I decided that all that stuff could wait. I don’t need to respond to emails and phone calls instantly just because I can. I need to be writing and working instead. I hope all my friends and friends of friends will catch on and let social networks figure out some other way to make money. Thanks to good ole paper and a writing utensil, I can write without wi-fi and cell phone distractions.

Another paper essential for longer work is my timeline on a large, blank piece of art paper. On the far left end of the paper I write the word Beginning, in the middle of sheet I writer the word Middle and toward the far right end of the paper I write End before a final hash mark. As I finish chapters, I add them to my timeline. This piece of paper gets rewritten several times, each iteration adds more colors and converging story lines. However, I still have the original drawing pad of twenty-four 18 x 12 inch sheets from writing my last novel. Something tells me I will need to buy another large pad before my second novel is finished.

My timeline is a paper version of the clothesline (another low technology) Fanny Flag uses. I heard Fanny Flag speak at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference several years ago and she says uses index cards and clothespins on a clothesline. The old fashioned devise is apropos to the folksy setting in her famous book, Fried Green Tomatoes. The clothesline is great for a visual person who wants to physically handle their manuscript.

I’ve heard of writers who keep everything in their head before going to the computer. I’ve also heard of writers who take the high- tech road and use a spread sheet to organize their narrative’s timeline, but this is way too complicated. Why take a program, designed for data and numbers and use it for fiction? For now, I'll stick to my drawing pad. A piece of paper is easy to lose, even if it is 18 x 12 inches. I have a digital photo backup on my phone. In a future installation of low-tech writer, I'll share more tips on how to integrate low and high technology in writing.


Sam Quinones said...

good post. i find, too, that the distractions of email and social media are almost torments at times. writing by hand, now, is too difficult for anything but outlining stories on yellow pads. but one option i'm looking into is buying a used laptop and disabling the wi-fi, so i can go somewhere and just write without the distractions of the internet....sam quinones

Ernest Hogan said...

I still use a notebook to keep track of things. And I always have a sketchbook, not just for art, but on-the-run note taking. Some of the best stuff starts as scribbles. I do miss the clunky feel of old-fashioned typewriters.

Pat/camila said...

What I woulf give for a Big Chief writing tablet...where I first practiced the magic of writing.

Richard Yanez said...

Good post. I, too, prefer writing longhand. Have several unruled journals going at once. Even when I have to "type" in my work, I consider that an invaluable part of my process. The collage of post-its, notes, clippings, etc. is another tool that continues to work for me. I plan to work harder at unpluggin the distractions as I work on next manuscript. (Rich Yañez)

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Wonderful, Melinda, with a heartfelt "organic" feel to it! I, too, am kinesthetic as well as visual and like the feel of the sheets of paper in my hand as I compose, but my handwriting is so indecipherable and so shaky now (as I've "matured"), that it's too much of a hassle for me. So I compose several pages of a story, or the whole thing, on my laptop, print it out, then decide what to move around, delete, etc. Then back to the screen to input the changes, etc. in an iterative process. Pretty much the same with my poems: compose, print it out, identify changes, print it out again, etc.

I think my heart knows this is a melding of processes: my old handwriting process pre-computers, my affinity for the fastness of computer writing, and my love for the feel of paper!

Nopalera said...

Gracias por los consejos hermana. No wonder I never get any work done! So if you call, and I don't answer, you know why. :)

Jose Rodriguez said...

Pencil and paper is my style too. I buy artbook notebooks which don't even have lines; they are just a blank piece of paper. It is up to me to fill up those white pages. I write straight from beginning to end starting with a fuzzy idea of where I'm going and ending somewhere else but ending nevertheless. I have never ran out of batteries.