Novel Writing by Hand? Yay or Nay?

Novel Writing by Hand

 

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen (a couple of months ago now) that I’ve been having a go at writing a novel by hand.

I’ve long been hearing of the benefits of writing by hand. Heaps of authors do it (so I’ve read); Isobelle Carmody and Stephen King, for example.

Then there were all these amazing articles about the benefits of handwriting: all of which I have managed to lose, despite planning on keeping links for this post. The Australian Writer’s Centre podcast ‘So You Want to be a Writer’, also discussed this in Episode 108.

In this podcast, Allison and Valerie refer to an article in Forbes magazine: ‘Three Ways writing with a pen positively affects your brain’.

“sequential hand movements, like those used in handwriting, activate large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory”

Nancy Olson

The theories are that handwriting increases creativity, as well as increasing neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation, and it forces us to slow down and think about what we’re doing.

So I tried it out.

These are my findings…

PRO’s

Convenience

You can carry an exercise book with you wherever you go, and all it takes is a moment to flip open the page and start writing. I almost never take my laptop anywhere, and when I turn it on it always takes several minutes to load up, and then to get the document open. If I have an idea burning to be written down – it could well be lost by the time my laptop is ready. (On saying this, I carry a notebook with me everywhere anyway. So I do often jot down story ideas that come to me when I’m out and about, and then I just transcribe them to the computer when I get home. The only real benefit here is that you’ve got your whole story with you where-ever you go.)

Crinkly pages

I love the sound of pages that have been covered in writing – there’s that lovely crinkle that they have when you turn the page or pages. Music to my ears.

 

CON’s

Speed = slow!

I type fast. When I’m in the zone, I can manage 2000 words in half an hour – though it usually takes me time to build up to that, time that I don’t really have at the moment with three kids about. But it’s not hard for me to hit 1000 in an hour or so if I have the time and space to do it. Not so for my handwriting. I struggled to hit 500 words a day. My best day was day 2, where I managed 1600 words, and out of 36 days in total I managed to reach 750 words (or above) on only 9 of those days. The rest ranged between 250 and 500, with the bulk down the 250 end. And every day I stayed up for a good couple of hours after the rest of the house had gone to sleep to make sure I got some words down.

Lost story…

This is linked to the above. When I write a story, I have ideas flowing all the time for what is coming up next. If I’m typing, I can get the story down quick enough to get to those ideas and write them down. Handwriting… no. I had so many ideas that were lost because it took me so long to get this-little-bit-now down. (Interestingly, as I type up what I’ve handwritten, I’m having all sorts of new scenes and ideas come to me, which I’m able to add now. Scenes which improve and expand the story line. I have no idea whether they were the same ideas I had first time round, but they seem to be improving it either way!)

Too hard to back up

When I’m typing out a story, it’s easy to email myself a version at the end of every day (or every couple of days), to provide a back-up should something dreadful happen. If I’m carrying my entire story around with me, it could end up lost somewhere. And with children running around there is always the risk of drinks being spilled, or pages torn out and lost. The story I’ve been handwriting has lovely ‘illustrations’ from my two year old – directly over my writing (or perhaps she’s getting into editor mode early, and letting me know what needs fixing??). Thankfully I can still make out my own words underneath her scribbles, if I squint hard enough, so all is not lost… it’s just been made a little more complicated.

 

My Verdict

For me, writing by hand is definitely a ‘nay’. While I would never get rid of either the notebook beside the bed or the one in my handbag for jotting down those moments of inspiration, I just can’t see myself writing a full novel this way. While it’s possible that I had a boost in creativity (it didn’t feel any different to usual), I wasn’t able to capture all those new ideas, so they were lost to me. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe they weren’t as great as I thought they were at the time, but without having recorded them to glance over, I’ll never know for sure. And while I obviously have no real idea what my neural activity is doing, I often feel the same affects from writing a story as I do from meditation, regardless of whether I’m typing or writing by hand.

– – –

If you’re a writer, (of any form) how do you prefer to write? And have you ever tried to do it another way?

A Novel’s Research

Some time ago I published the first of what I intended to be a short series on the writing of my novel. That post was ‘A Novel’s Inspiration‘ and here, finally, is post #2 – a brief account of the research that went into this novel.

First of all there were the bush walks – one of which inspired the story, the others which helped me with setting:

 

Then there was the reading, of which this pile accounts about 3/4 of the books I own, and not the many I borrowed from the library,

research books

nor the countless articles I read online, nor the primary sources I found – mostly through Trove – such as this letter to the Colonial Times Newspaper – printed 26 Feb 1830*

invaded 'a settler'

 

And I can’t forget the practical experiences: such as tanning – my character Elspeth tans a kangaroo skin, thought it might be a bit big to start with so I went with something a bit smaller – a wallaby, (and if you’re wondering – I followed the instructions on this site, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out for a first attempt).

13237726_10154924340368289_625681680843494300_n

 

Which leads me to the Bush Foods Workshop led by two Indigenous Tasmanian women, where I learnt that bracken fern is good for jack-jumper bites, and crushed wattle seed smells like coffee, and the fruit of the pigface tastes a little like a salty fig while the leaves can be used in the same way we would use aloe vera (among many many other things). Most exciting was learning there are several species of edible natives in my backyard – which I’d looked at only weeks earlier and wondered ‘Can I eat that?’ Unfortunately by the time I learnt I could eat them it was too late – the goats had got to them first. Hopefully the goats didn’t completely destroy them, and they’ll grow back next year (fingers crossed!).

 

 

* For those trying to read this letter:

Mr Editor – Your desire for information respecting the Aborigines has induced me to state what I conceive to be a proper view of the matter. In our neighbourhood every day affords from proof of their determination to destroy, and their declaration to war with the whites. Whenever an opportunity presents itself they have invaded our district in almost every direction, during the last eight months, with considerable success as respects their hostile attacks, particularly in taking the lives of several individuals, and in having accomplished the ruin of whole families.

 

It is almost impossible for me to fathom how someone who had been living somewhere for such a short time can accuse the original inhabitants of ‘invading’ the district…

How to find the time to…

 

crop maze
Following one of my more delightful time-fillers as we explore the Crop Maze in Hagley, Tasmania 🙂

 

“How do you find the time to…?”

I’ve been asked this question quite a bit over the past few weeks – on Instagram in relation to my reading habits, and by a couple of different people at the recent Tamar Valley Writers Festival when discussing my writing.

I have three children; two I home-school (in grade 4 and 2 respectively). The youngest is an active toddler, at the stage of getting into anything and everything the moment my back is turned, and ever so full of mischief. We also have a large garden (mostly neglected, but still somehow providing us with an abundance of tomatoes and potatoes and apples), chickens, a sheep, a cat, a dog, and a goldfish (the animals are the children’s responsibility for the most part: feeding and collecting eggs are fairly easy chores, after all).

When I’ve been asked how I manage my reading/writing with such a menagerie, I tend to laugh it off, giving one of two ‘joke’ answers: that I neglect the children, or else bribe them with screen time. The latter is sometimes true – though screen time is usually a reward for completed school work and chores, so it fills two purposes (a reward for completed tasks, and giving me some free time for my own work). Other times I have a self-imposed deadline to meet and I need to finish something – so movies are a great way to entertain the kids for an hour or so. Even the toddler will sit quietly for the duration if Mary Poppins is playing – (well, except when she gets up to dance along with Mary and Bert and the chimney-sweeps). And I don’t only distract them with the screen. With around 4 acres of land – around half of which is bush – the older two have no problems entertaining themselves for hours at a time, and if I can align that with a toddler napping there’s plenty of time to make progress on whatever I’m working on.

But to answer in the above manner excludes two very important reasons why I can achieve so much reading/writing. The first is the most important of all – my husband. His support and encouragement has been a great motivator – along with his willingness to back up his words with actions by taking over the homeschooling/child care/housework on the days he doesn’t work while I hide away for the day to write/research/edit, and even whole weekends so I can attend writers festivals.

And the other important thing is making the most of what time time I have available. When I’m hanging about waiting for my kids outside dance or aikido, I’m reading, or editing, or working on my author platform, or jotting down story ideas. If I know I’ve only got a short space of time to myself, I make sure I use it in the best way possible (and yes, sometimes this means an afternoon nap if I need it).

But I think there is another factor at play here too, and I think it’s summed up best in a quote I found on my twitter feed the other day:

“Motivation comes from being committed to the path you are on.” Jeffrey Shaw

And there’s another quote that works here too:
If you really want to do something...

 

 

Tamar Valley Writers Festival 2016

tvwf image.gif

Last weekend was the Tamar Valley Writers Festival – two days (well, for me – there were other events on other days too), of non-stop panels and book-signings and networking!

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while now, may remember that around this time two years ago I attended the Festival of Golden Words, in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. This is that festival – rebranded, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the name change.

Unfortunately I missed the opening of the festival, arriving just in time for the second time slot of the day, with two talks of interest to decide between. With three sessions for each time slot, there were a few clashes over the weekend, which make it hard to decide what session to attend!

The first couple of sessions of the day (Saturday) were sparsely attended, and I worried that the festival wasn’t going to draw the same crowds as the first time around, (a big concern as this is the closest writers festival to me, and I want to be sure it continues!) but by the third session of the day there was standing room only in the sessions I attended, and the atmosphere was bustling, though some of the panelists seemed to lack confidence speaking to such large groups. Sunday continued on much the same as far as attendance was concerned, though the panelists seemed to be much more comfortable and relaxed, with more banter occurring between panelists.

TVWF books
Petrarch’s Bookshop was in attendance, and with authors signing their books I spent up…

There were some fascinating discussions, and so much to think about – I ended up with seven pages of sometimes-barely-readable scrawl in my notebook! I won’t retype the whole seven pages here – just a few snippets from the weekend.

  • In ‘Mosaic Australia: words and cultural voices’, Ellen van Neerven (author of Heat and Light, which I read just recently – look out for my review soon!) commented on the use of the word ‘myth’ in regard to Aboriginal stories, for these stories are real and current for the Aboriginal people, and are held in the land itself.
  • In ‘Lost Voices: recreating historic characters’, Historian Michael Cathcart stated he was interested in confronting the mythologies of the past, that ‘they are not us’, and his interests lie in the differences between now and then. He said it was useful to look at the strangeness of the past, that we find the story in the difference.
  • In ‘Questions and Lessons from our History’, someone (my apologies – I didn’t jot down who!) commented on how stories from history are never actually finished, there are always ongoing discoveries. When asked about choosing the stories of ‘minor players’ of history, Steve Harris, author of Solomon’s Noose (a story about a hangman in Hobart during colonial times and now added to my TBR list!) commented that unless we acknowledge our own stories of the past – good and bad, we can never expect anyone else to.
  • ‘The Rich Tapestry: diversity in life and literature’, introduced me to Erin Gough, who spoke of her experiences growing up as a gay teen, and the lack of gay characters in any of the books she read. ‘We read to find our place in the world’, she said, and she wanted to write stories for teens today, so they can see themselves reflected back in fiction. (Seeing yourself in fiction is so important on so many levels and there’s a website ‘Visibility Fiction’ which promotes diversity in fiction – not just regarding sexual identity, but also colour, and disability, and any other way people may be different from each other).
  • Historian Patsy Cameron gave me goosebumps in ‘First Voices: Our Indigneous past’, when she spoke of trekking to a cave where thousands of years ago her ancestors left their hand prints on the walls. And later, in the session entitled ‘Our Island Home: issues in Tasmanian history’, my views on the past were re-arranged yet again (it’s happened quite a lot over the course of my research for my current WIP), when Patsy commented that she sees the war between the Tasmanian Aborigines and the white settlers as the ‘White War’, not as it is more commonly known, the ‘Black War’, because it was the whites that caused the war, not the original inhabitants of the land.

I’ve come away from the festival with so much to think about, not only from the panels and discussion, but from personal conversations with people – friends and acquaintances and those I only just met.

I have no doubt what-so-ever that my novel will be much stronger from the changes I’m making, due to what I learnt over the two days, and I’m so inspired and encouraged to continue with my writing.

Looking forward to the next one!

 

In Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creativity.

Elizabeth-Gilbert-cropped-e1452490982573

In conversation with Tasmanian author Heather Rose, Liz told us all about her creative life, which she has written about in her book ‘Big Magic’.

I sat in the dark theatre, scrawling largely spaced notes into my notebook, hoping not to overlap notes on a page I couldn’t see. Elizabeth Gilbert is a great speaker, her observations made us laugh, and I don’t know about others in the audience, but some of her observations made me tear up too.

The idea of a 4 year old, presented with a box of lego blocks, worrying that today’s creation would not be as good as yesterday’s creation, or feeling blocked, had the audience in peels of laughter. But when an audience member asked about motherhood and guilt and taking the time out to be creative, Elizabeth’s words had me blinking away tears.

Admitting she has no children of her own, Elizabeth talked of witnessing this strange phenomena of ‘mother-guilt’ in her friends: about how any time the mother takes to benefit herself is seen as ‘taking’ from her children. But as Elizabeth noted: Your children will imitate what you do, not what you tell them to do. If you are a creative person, and make space in your life for creativity, then they will do the same.

It was almost a relief to hear Elizabeth talk about her own mother, who often told Elizabeth and her sister to leave her alone while she created. And Elizabeth appreciated that because it taught her that creativity was important, and encouraged her to lead the life she’s led, as an author – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed my children will feel the same way. There is always that cringe I feel when I tell my children I need some space to write, that I need silence – the constant chatter is not conducive to writing, that constant interruptions do not help that connection to where-ever it is my ideas flow from.

Big Magic

Which leads me to another point Elizabeth makes: Creativity is collaboration between a human being and mystery. She extends on this idea in her book ‘Big Magic’ in which she talks about the ancient Greeks who had aword for the “highest degree of human happiness “eudaimonia”, which basically means ‘well-dameoned’ – that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide.”

I love this idea, and I can certainly relate to it. Though I would have called it ‘being in the zone’, it is certainly this sense that the ideas are flowing from somewhere other than me, that I am just the conduit to getting the words down on paper (or screen). It’s not an easy state to get to, I find, there’s a lot of work required to get into that flow, and it’s quite easily disrupted (hence the need for children to be elsewhere…), but when I get there the story takes on a life of it’s own and the characters find themselves in situations that I neither planned or expected. And that is usually (not always) the time when the best writing comes through.

There was so much that was inspiring and thought provoking about what Elizabeth had to say, I could go on for pages, so I’ll try to summarise my favourite points:

  • When Elizabeth was 16 she took a solemn vow to her writing – she went into her room, lit a candle and promised: “I will never ask you to take care of me. I’ll take care of both of us.”  As Elizabeth says, it is possible to work in a job that earns you money, AND be creative at the same time.
  • She talked about how we are all born ‘makers’. If you go back far enough in your family tree, everyone was a maker. Long winter nights were spent making – women traditionally knitted or sewed, men might’ve sat by the fire whittling, everybody made something. But today we are taught that only a few are creative. Only a few have talent, and those few often decided upon in school, while everyone else is deterred from following a creative path, told they aren’t ‘good enough’, and taught to be ashamed of their creative attempts.
  • “Done is better than good.” This gem is from Elizabeth’s mother, who believed that something that was completed was far better than something that was perfect, but still only existed as an idea, or a half –finished something.

And the last point which I think is so important: (paraphrased…)

“If you keep silent you are dishonouring all those women who never had the opportunity to have a voice themselves.”

For so long, women had no voice in society. We were not permitted to speak in the public sphere, our opinions and viewpoints were ignored. Today, women have no such problems holding them back. We can write stories, we can even publish them ourselves if nobody else will do it for us.  We have the opportunity to share life as we see it, to give others some insight into the unique position that is ‘me’, the unique outlook that each individual carries, which is never exactly like another person’s outlook.

If you have a story in you, that is busting to get out into the world, write it. Write it until it is the best you can make it, and then let it go.

Done is better than good.

 

 

Draft 6 – Finished… for now

17-6-2015

For over two years now I’ve been working on a historical fiction – tentatively titled ‘On Demon’s Shores’ (It’s a play on words for ‘Van Diemen’s Land’).

A couple of months ago I opened it up again, after putting it aside for 3-4 months, and began to read through the drivel… and there was plenty! I took out approximately 1/3 of the scenes, leaving just over 40,000 words at the end of May. That’s when I started rewriting. I have a wedding to go to next weekend, out of town, and so I set that as my due date. I want this novel to be at least 80,000 words, and so that was my word goal. Homeschooling 2 children means no time for writing during the day, so I did it at night. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been up late getting these words down. I tried not to stay up past midnight (it’s not really conducive with an 11 month old who wakes during the night, or those aforementioned homeschooled children), but there were the odd couple of nights I crawled into bed at 1am or just after.

I’ve made it to 80k, just ahead of schedule, though I still there are several scenes to write to complete the story, so I’m not quite done.

I’m feeling good about this draft. It aligns with what’s in my head much better than any of the previous five. It feels better. There’s some good writing in there, much less drivel. 😉

I’m looking forward to getting it all tidied up, and sent out to my early-readers for some feedback! 🙂

if I should lose you – Natasha Lester – Review #aww2014

if I should lose you

I’ve been following the blog of Australian Author, Natasha Lester for a while now. She has some great content, and her books have been on my reading list for some time. But it was this blog post that propelled her novel ‘if I should lose you’ to the top of my TBR list.

In the post, Natasha gives 10 tips on how to write a brilliant beginning, and then she does a very brave thing – she allows us to see the original draft of the first chapter or so of ‘if I should lose you’, and compare it with the final published version, so we can see where the first draft was lacking, and how those issues were cleared up in the final copy. If you’re a writer, you might want to check it out, and even if you are not, it’s really interesting to see the changes that were made from first to final drafts.

*

‘if I should lose you’ tells the story of Camille, a transplant coordinator whose role is to support families through the difficult decision to donate their loved ones organs. At home she is on the other side of the fence, desperately awaiting a donor liver for her own sick child. The stress has impacted on her marriage, which seems to be slowly and surely crumbling away. When she’s asked to curate an exhibition of her late father’s sculptures she jumps at the chance to add a bit of interest and excitement to her life, but in the process learns more than she bargained for about her (both deceased) parents.

This may sound like an odd thing to say, but I was really satisfied with the ending. I can’t really say why without giving any spoilers, except that it was not the ending I was expecting (because I had an expectation that most books end in a certain way, and so I thought this would be ‘most books’), and while this left a little uncertainty about certain matters, I felt it was the right way to end the story.

Natasha Lester does a remarkable job of delving deep into the emotions of parenthood, marriage, and the horror and guilt of waiting, or worse still, hoping, for the death of another child so the life of your own might be saved. If you’re a fan of Jodi Picoult, I highly recommend you pick up this book.