2.25.2010

The Writing Process: Longhand Short Stories

I've found that I crank out my short stories best when written extemporaneously by hand in a journal between the hours of 12 and 5 am. Which is to say I'm about to go to sleep but decide to jot down a starter line or new idea before I do, and then it gets wildly out of hand, and before I know it it's 4 hours later and my hand is cramping.

The story then sits untouched, mere ink on paper enclosed in the darkness of the closed journal, for several days.

I then unearth it and type it up, making minor revisions as I do so, and taking notes on future ideas/changes. It sits for a few days more.

Then I bring up the file and revise, usually expanding the wordcount considerably in the process. The story then sits for another few days to weeks to months.

Next I chop and revise some more. This is usually the hack round where segments and bits that I've changed my mind about end up littering the cutting room floor. Some of these bits are saved in case I change my mind while some get deleted forever.

The next few days are spent polishing and reading and rereading and usually not really liking it very much. I let it sit for a while (how long is quite variable, but generally a few days at least and a few weeks at most) and then I reread it to see if I like it anymore. Usually I do, because I've had some time to forget the slave-labor spent on it and, after all, distance makes the heart grow fonder (hopefully).

By this point, I consider the story mostly complete, although I am of course prone to changing my mind about things and there's always room for more editing anyway. But this supposed-to-be-sleeping business does tend to give birth to whole (or mostly whole) stories within the short span of a few hours, as opposed to when I have a story idea I've been thinking about and then try to write it out on the computer only to have it sit around in bits and pieces, lackadaisically adding to it every few weeks/months/years or so. I suspect that the period of relaxation in the inspiration-hot-spot shower beforehand has something to do with this unexpected fount of pre-slumberous creativity--that and the additional pressure of omg-I-should-be-sleeping-now-but-I-need-to-finish-this! Deadline pressure can produce miracles, as essays and reports and the world of academia at large can attest.

Which is not to say that I am utterly incapable of completing a short story by computer composition alone. Just that I've noticed it usually takes much longer. Probably this has a great deal to do with my attention span, which by all rights should belong to a two-year-old in a sparkly toy store as opposed to a graduate student in a writing program. I like instant gratification and a sense of reward, and having the entirety of a story written out, no matter how rough, makes me feel tremendously accomplished--and I like to tell myself that getting the writing done is the hard work of baking the cake, while revision is the icing, the gilding, and the spun-sugar flowers. (Which is, of course, a lie. Revision can be and often is way harder than the actual original composition.)

What do you prefer? Writing longhand or typing on a keyboard, or perhaps both? Do you prefer pen or pencil or felt-tip marker? Do you write on looseleaf paper or in a fancy journal?

6 comments:

Danyelle said...

I used to have to write everything out longhand. The big problem was that my brain went faster than my hand. Once I settled into typing the story onto the computer from the get go, it's made my life so much easier. :)

Alz said...

I find that my brain going faster than my hands has its occasional benefits--for instance, the slowness of my hand conveying my thoughts onto the page gives me a little more time to consider such things as phrasing and word-choice. On the other hand, though, sometimes I spend far too long composing a single line or picking a single stupid word...

Merc said...

Who needs sleep, anyway? O:)

I generally like plain, spiral-bound notebooks, the cheap ones (usually 5X7 inches, or whatever is close to that) because I'm hard on notebooks and nice pretty ones are too shiny to actually USE.

Depending on the project, I've written complete shorts on paper before transcribing; or sometimes it's just a beginning and I finish it on computer.

Of course, I can write fast, but that makes my writing unintelligible, and if I slow down, my brain gets ahead of my pen, and there is a new kind of messiness. :P

Anyway, I do LIKE the process of writing my hand. It's often relaxing and I do it when I need to think and brainstorm something, or just need a change from the computer screen.

Alz said...

Merc - For the longest time, I hoarded all my shiny journals because I wanted to use them for "something special" and ended up with 120,938,109 blank journals and a great deal of scribbled-upon lined notebook paper. Eventually I just bit the bullet and started writing in the journals--but at the same time, like you, I tend to be pretty hard on the ones I carry around, so I ended up taking the less-nice/cheaper ones with me and leaving the shiny ones behind to use when at home. The only other problem I've encountered is that I then have bits of story scattered across several journals...

Merc said...

Uh huh! I still love HAVING shiny journals, it's sort of like my obsession with usb/zip drives. (I have more than I'll ever use, but I always want more... they're so cute and nifty!)

But as far as practical use, cheap notebooks are better (and, well, cheaper). I hear you about finding a story spread over multiple notebooks, though. Almost as frustrating is when I leave plot outlines over different note books or stray pieces of paper and forgot where I put the rest of it... S-|

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