Tag Archives: notebooks

Some Writing Lessons I Learned This Month

The month is not quite over and already I feel like I just want to start it all over again. I tried making too many changes at the same time and then school became hectic and I lost my way. But no matter how many times I miss my goal, I keep trying in one form or another, and I’m never low on inspiration.

First, as promised, a photo of my preferred tools of the trade. I use Mead Five Star college ruled notebooks. These are both 5-subject notebooks. The big one is 8.5 by 11 inches and the small one is 6 by 9.5. The spirals are sturdy, and I like the pockets between each subject. Although I love pens and buy them in many colors and varieties, I normally use Bic Round Stic pens in blue. The ink doesn’t bleed through the paper, and I bought a box of 60 for only $7.99.GE DIGITAL CAMERA

One change I made this month for which I had high hopes but didn’t work out at all was waking up earlier to write before going to work. I have never been a morning person. It’s not even because I dread going to work every day; I’m just a slow starter. Even on the days that I could force myself out of bed at 5:30, I sat around not know exactly what to do or where to start. I wasn’t awake enough to be able to make any kind of creative decisions. I started going to bed earlier too, but I stressed out over having to fall asleep so that I could wake up earlier that I didn’t write much at night like I used to, either.

That said, I want to create a writing routine for myself. I would like to be able to sit down at my desk at the same time every day and know that it’s time to write. To be able to accomplish this, I need a balance with my school work as well, so that I don’t spend hours rushing to finish assignments on the night they’re due. Not only is that an added amount of stress that I don’t need, but it precludes me from doing any writing those days. Once I’ve put writing off for one day, it’s easier to put it off the next day as well.

Next lesson, I love writing by hand, but I can’t rewrite by hand. When writing the first draft, I’m creating something out of nothing, and I can see it grow and build upon itself. It has no form it needs to take. When revising, all I can see is the amount of words I already have down and how much work that translates to. I feel overwhelmed, the fun is gone, and I end up putting it off to the future and never making progress.

I can’t set out to make a particular product (like a short story vs. a novella vs. a novel). I may have an idea of what form it will take, but I need to play around with the characters and setting and events to figure out the shape, structure, and length.

Finally, pens, pencils, markers, notebooks, binders, index cards, sticky notes, etc. are fun. I love back to school season when I can check out all the amazing school and office supplies, but I hoard what I buy and try to save everything for some unknown future project that will somehow be worthy of these new materials. This is how I ended up with enough notebooks to last me more than 20 years. This is my mission: To use up, cover to cover, every notebook I own. I have no idea how long that will actually take.

I seriously got off track this month, not only with writing but with school work as well. I even missed the deadline on a project (which I have done only once). I have up to a week to turn it in with a 10% penalty, and I figured a 10% late penalty was better than the larger amount of points I would miss if I rushed to turn something in on time that was not my best work. I hope this serves as enough of a wake-up call for me that I’ll finally get my act together. Like I said earlier, I’m never low on inspiration. Motivation, however, is sometimes another story.

August Handwriting Challenge Update

I challenged myself this month to do all my writing and editing on paper rather than the computer. On top of that challenge, I also wanted to write one or more short stories. While I’ve been busy with homework and haven’t written quite as much as I’d hoped to this last week, I did write 7 pages, front and back. I haven’t counted the words, but I think it’s between 2,500 and 3,000 words. I definitely write slower by hand than I do on the computer, but now that I’m not thinking about this in terms of trying to handwrite an entire 50,000-word novel in a month, it might not be an issue. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far in my experiment.

Use a separate notebook for each story. My notebook of choice had been a 5-subject, 8 by 11 inch, 200-page Mead Five Star notebook. Using these for mostly notes and only the occasional draft of a scene, one notebook would last me about two years before it was filled. I started one story in my current notebook, and after I’d written a few pages, I wished I’d used a separate notebook so the story wouldn’t get lost amidst all the unrelated notes.

Leave some blank pages for notes. On the second story I began last week, I started writing it in a new, smaller notebook, and I began on the sixth page, leaving the first five pages for notes, such as where I want to pick up when I sit down to write the next day, names and descriptions of characters I want to introduce, and descriptions of settings. By putting the notes at the beginning, I could use the rest of the notebook for another story or another draft after the first one is finished. I like to use every page in my notebooks.

It’s okay to write only for the sake of writing. One cause of my writer’s block is the pressure I put on myself to create a finished piece of work. When a spark of a scene caught my interest, I spent an hour working on it. It doesn’t have any structure or fit into any of my larger projects, but it gave me a chance to experiment with writing first person point of view when I normally use third person. I have several books of writing prompts, but I rarely use them because none of the prompts fit into the projects I’m currently working on. Once I actually tried writing with no final project in mind, the stress was gone, and I got a lot of words down. Besides, a writing prompt might lead to a whole story if I give it enough thought.

Through various back-to-school sales over the last few years, I’ve amassed enough notebooks to last me more than 20 years, so I’m excited to put some of these to use. I plan to use either 1-subject or composition notebooks for ideas that I think might turn into complete stories, and one of my spare 5-subject notebooks for writing prompts or other writing exercises. Once I get this new notebook system figured out, I’ll write a post (with pictures) about each notebook I use and how I use them. I’m a stationery nerd and love to see everyone’s writing supplies.

An Upcoming Experiment

I’m attempting a writing experiment next month. For the month of August, I’m going to do all my writing and revising with pen and paper, rather than on the computer. I plan to print out the 30,000 words I have for Volume 6 and try to make sense of them by transcribing them in some coherent order in a physical notebook. Aside from my usual giant plot holes left by skipping over scenes for which I didn’t have details planned, many of the scenes I’ve written contradict each other.

Ever since I got my first laptop, I’ve done almost all of my writing on the computer. I’ll write in a notebook when it’s not convenient to power up my computer, but little more than a day goes by afterward before I type everything up and return to my old habits. I tried to do NaNoWriMo 2010 (my second year) completely handwritten, but that failed for a few reasons. I was using a Moleskine, which I considered “too nice” to ruin with my crossing out words and skipping ahead to the next scene if I couldn’t figure out that “perfect” detail. That notebook probably wasn’t big enough for a whole 50,000 word novel without my being careful of how many words I squeezed onto a page. I also hadn’t planned out enough in advance to know how the story would go. I think I ended with 27,000 words that year, and I gave up with the notebook after the first week or so.

Even with no class work to do this week, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped to. I had an idea for Volume 5 Wednesday evening, and I wasn’t sure where exactly in the story I should put it. It’s a flashback, and if it weren’t for the point-of-view character being a POV character only in Volume 5, I would have put it in an earlier book. Still, it answers some lingering questions and I think it’s important to the story.

I wasn’t ready to put the scene in the document in case it fizzled out with my lack of ideas, so I sat down with my recently-neglected planning notebook and started writing. Seven hundred words later, I had some of the best writing I’ve done on this project in months. Details popped into my mind more quickly than they have in the longest time.

Writing for the past several months has felt like pulling teeth. My biggest obstacle is that because some chapters are basically done, having gone through multiple drafts and improvements, I feel like any new scenes I write have to be at the same standards. Even though I’m the only one who will see these books for now, the fear of not being good enough keeps me from writing at all. I need to change my methods, and writing by hand seems like the best option for me.

Other benefits to handwriting:

  • I own more blank notebooks than I’m willing to admit. I need to start using these.
  • I love my handwriting, even if it’s not always the neatest.
  • Without the computer on, I’m less likely to be distracted.
  • My brain functions differently when I’m handwriting vs. typing. Because writing takes longer than typing, I can focus on details of the setting that I tend to gloss over when I’m typing.
  • I like to see the physical evidence of my work, as all the pages fill with my loopy cursive.

Even if I fail this challenge and go back to the computer, at least I’ll be writing. The worst that could happen is that I write nothing at all, which won’t be much different than some other months of little to no progress.

As for my weekly Camp NaNoWriMo update, the good news is that I wrote over three times as much this week as I did the first week of Camp. The bad news is that my total is only 3,127 words. After changing my goal from hours worked to new words added, my goal was 25,000 words, but since I don’t have quite as many plot holes in Volume 4 as I’d originally thought (as well as being so far behind halfway into the month), I’ve adjusted my goal to 20,000 words.

Is anyone else interested in a month-long computer-less writing challenge? There are no word count goals other than what you might set for yourself. The point of the experiment is to try to think about your work differently.