Just over two weeks ago, I finished writing the first draft of my current work-in-progress. I feel satisfied with this draft. I wrote it in under a year, whereas the last one took over two years, and I felt more naturally creative while writing. What’s so different about this one, compared to my first novel, is that I wrote it all by hand in a notebook.
I learned a lot about my writing style and my creative process throughout. And I simply enjoyed the process much more than I did when I wrote on my computer. It felt very organic and a more natural way to write.
So, I’ve decided that I’m going to write all of my first drafts by hand.
Flow, creativity, flow
The big issue I find with writing is my incredibly short bursts of creative energy. Usually, I can write in a somewhat-halting sprint for like 10 minutes before I get distracted by something else on the computer or my idea sputters out.
When writing in a notebook, I was able to write for longer and I found my creative energies didn’t run out nearly as quickly. My writing sessions lasted longer and I found the ideas came more organically as I went. And not working on a computer removed those dastardly distractions.
The best thing about writing the draft by hand in a notebook was, if I had a moment of inspiration, I could write it down no matter where I was. I’d take the notebook to work with me, and in quiet moments between clients, I could scribble down the next scene. I didn’t need to get into a creative mindset, like I do on the computer, I could tap into my inspiration whenever I needed it.
Word counts are a lie
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. If you enjoy having a word count goal, more power to you, but I found I worked best without one.
Handwriting meant I couldn’t keep track of my word count unless I wanted to sit and count it out… which sounds like no fun at all. But the lack of word count tracking gave me a certain freedom I never felt on the computer. It was just one less thing to worry about.
Instead of making sure I was hitting goals, I was able to fully focus on the story. The characters and plot were in control, not some arbitrary number. And any time I did think about my word count, it was more out of curiosity. How many words had I written?
I found my voice
Maybe this isn’t something directly related to handwriting my novel, but it’s something I noticed while I was writing. My writer's voice came out.
When I was writing my first book, I had this nagging feeling the whole time that the writing was bland. While some passages were quite good in my opinion, I think my instincts were right. I hadn’t developed my own unique voice.
This time was different, and, as I said, I don’t know if it was the handwriting or just my own growth as a writer, my writing voice came out. The prose is distinct and adds to the atmosphere of the book, rather than just being words that describe what’s happening.
The reason I suspect it might be related goes back to the natural way in which the words seem to flow. The overthinking and habitual distractions weren’t present, so the voice could come out unhindered.
Editing is for the second draft
I wrote about this before, but handwriting seemed to quiet my inner editor. There was not much I could do after writing a scene but take note of something I wanted to be changed. I couldn’t fixate on it or waste time trying to get it right the first time.
A first draft doesn’t have to get it right. That’s what editing is for. But editing should be saved for after the first draft is complete.
I found when I was writing my first draft of my first book that allowing myself the freedom to edit as I went cut off the “flow” of the story. I’d get disconnected from what was happening with the characters, too focused on making sure the writing was perfect.
Now I have a complete(ish) story with full character arcs. The writing isn’t perfect, but at least it’s all there. Getting it from the notebook onto my computer has been acting as a first-pass edit to make sure all the scenes and characters are fully fleshed out before I delve into the heavy-duty editing.
Drafting was actually fun
My first novel was an important step in my writing life, but I didn’t have much fun drafting it. I was too caught up in the pressures of making sure it was “The Book” because I was so sure it was going to be published. Ha!
This time, I’d found a story that I wanted to tell⎯a story with a great amount of heart in it, and I let the passion fuel the drafting process. And it was fun.
New ideas were exciting, connections I made within the plot were deliciously clever, and sitting down to write didn’t feel like a chore. Because I was writing freely, in a way that felt natural to me, the pressure didn’t seem to be so important anymore.
Yes, I wanted the book at the end to be publishable, but the process felt so much more like me, so I let myself relish in it.
If you, like me, were/are struggling to get into the groove, maybe try a different method. Most writers hoard notebooks like dragons, don’t they? At least I do. It’s a simple method and doesn’t require any technology, besides a pen.
Of course, the way I write won’t be exactly right for everyone. Every writer needs to find their own unique process. But this experiment has been a success for me.
Originally published at http://jgoldsmithwrites.com on June 18, 2020.