How Do You Write?

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werebear
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Thu Apr 12, 2007 11:37 am Post

I used to keep one of those legal pad portfolios and and nice fountain pen for drafts. Since I didn't have a laptop. Fountain pens have very little drag, which was important as you reach your second hour. And there's no going back to fuss over grammar or spelling. As my speed increased, there was the chance that my already horrible handwriting would become unreadable, and inspiration had to fill in the gaps.

Now I have a desktop mac for Scrivener, and my old iBook, just old enough to not be upgradeable to OS X. To make it even more basic, it started having trouble with OS 9 updates a couple of years ago, so I put it in the Wayback Machine; I reinstalled the original operating system and the only thing I have on it is Z-Write (a lovely program, and the first I found with the binder that lets you drag chunks of text around.)

Now this is my drafting machine, since that's all I can do with it. No distractions and a keyboard. This lets me take it to a coffee shop or onto my little front porch.

I can draft anytime, anywhere. And now my Palm Pilot is a help for notes or little 500 word chunks that I can use when I'm standing in line or stuck in traffic.

I like to write late at night... the world is quiet, I play some music (Beethoven, Pink Floyd and Ry Cooder are favorites) and stay up waaaay too late.
WereBear

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cr
crissxross
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Thu Apr 12, 2007 10:29 pm Post

Hermit like, I write in seclusion at my desk on my iMac anytime I can. Recently I've taken to waking up in the middle of the night and scribbling in the dark, so as not to wake up him in bed next to me, in the notebook which sits on my bedside table. Makes interesting reading next morning - if I can decipher it.

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ptram
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Thu Apr 12, 2007 11:52 pm Post

Werebear,

werebear wrote:Now I have a desktop mac for Scrivener, and my old iBook, just old enough to not be upgradeable to OS X


I write mainly with a PowerBook G3/400 'Pismo' with 512MB of RAM, that is running Tiger 10.4.9 just fine. This model is from year 2000. Maybe your iBook can be upgraded, even if Apple doesn't declare it can?

Paolo

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werebear
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Mon Apr 16, 2007 11:12 am Post

Thanks for thinking of me, ptram. But I think the hardware can't handle it. It was having trouble with 3 year old OS 9 upgrades, and that's a sign.

So I've decided to save the money towards a better laptop at some point.

There are some advantages to it (which is the kind of Pollyanna I am!)

It's great for drafting because that's all I can do with it. No distractions. I export the text into a little flash drive for easy transfer into my desktop Scrivener. It has a matte screen, and I do love the keyboard on it. Nice and tactile.

And let me say here that if you use more than one computer, a flash drive (also known as keychain drives or thumb drives) are fantastic. They will motor between a PC and a Mac with ease. They can be carried in a pocket or purse. And it's a great way to back up on the go.

Mine is 256 megs which covers a lot of text territory.
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ptram
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Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:13 pm Post

Some years ago I bought an iPod shuffle - the one with no display. It is essentially a 1 GB flash drive, half of which I use for moving files between the various computers (and sometimes musical instruments...).

However, I've a small network at my home-office, so sometimes my computes are connected via an ethernet cable, or a WiFi radio connection. This latter, especially with the nice season, when I'm in the garden writing, and I need the internet.

Say, distractions.

Paolo

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werebear
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Sat Apr 28, 2007 12:13 pm Post

Well, I honestly couldn't stand it anymore and sprang for a better laptop. Must... have... Scrivener...

Yes, ptram, older iBooks can run OS X. And I gathered, from internet research, that it probably would do it okay. I even checked on the procedure; since my old iBook has no DVD drive, I would buy Tiger, turn in the disk, and get a set on CDs. It costs an extra $10. So I did consider it.

I do love my iBook. (366 MHz, the special edition graphite color they sold in 2000.) But the fact that it got flaky on OS 9 upgrades made me worry that I'd invest the money and then Tiger would be flaky. The upgrade to the 400 level processors wasn't just the processor; it was a new cache & the firewire wrinkles might make a big difference; I decided that was money that could be better spent on something I KNEW would run Tiger right.

It's like an old car; at what point do you decide to stop fixing it? It has served me well for almost seven years; the odds were going to catch up with it, I feared. And the nearest place which does Apple repair is over an hour away.

Because what the dilemma came down to was the importance the laptop has become to my writing process. My legal pad/fountain pen stage, pre-laptop, had illustrated that for me. A laptop lets me set up my spaces, anywhere I happen to be. I love to be outside, at a coffee shop, in the bedroom at my own desk.

I think that if Virginia Woolfe had access to laptops, she might have written, "A writer needs a laptop of one's own."

Because then your "writing room" is anywhere you happen to be.
WereBear

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bgordon
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Fri May 25, 2007 8:53 pm Post

The question I always ask myself is what exactly constitutes writing and how does writing relate to the rest of the research process (I write academic social science articles)? Once I have the general idea of what I want think/write about, I typically read somewhere around 50-100 articles to get an idea what has been said before. In the process of reading the prior literature, I make ample notes on the margins. These include not just comments on what the article in question says, but notes on how the current article relates to other papers, provisional outlines for my paper, sketches of arguments that I am developing, etc. When the time comes for me to actually start working on a first draft, I have 'pre-draft' idea fragments scattered across literally dozens of journal articles, post-its, and pieces of scratch paper. Only when it comes time to start transforming all of these idea fragments into a coherent first draft do I start banging away on the computer. But I have always felt that coming up with the first draft actually comes more towards the 'end' of the writing process than the beginning (I am not discounting the importance of editing, but for me the front half of the processes can take months - even years - while composing and editing is measured in weeks and months).

I usually do my reading/margin writing in coffee shops. Somehow the background noise helps my focus on what I reading and thinking about. When it comes to drafting, I need to do that at home on my desk. I have tried to write with music, but I find that really distracting - although sometimes jazz (with no singing) is ok. Coffee is a must and I do most of my best writing before lunch.

Before Scivener, I used to struggle mightly with Word as I tried to develop a draft out of my haphazard pile of notes, ideas, and proto-outlines. And while I am still starting out in Scrivener (I'm currently drafting my first paper using it), I have to say that it is a godsend. The program seems like it was custom made for how I approach the writing process. It allows me to cobble together my disparate ideas and start structuring an organized 'story' in a very flexible environment.

Ko
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Sun May 27, 2007 1:38 am Post

In some ways I am the opposite of BGordon. I need to write in order to find out what I think. I write non-fiction and of course have to do a great deal of research and reading. Only by writing many many files of material out of my reading can I later use search engines to find back the stuff I need. I have a G5 Mac desktop and an iBook. I synchronyse them with Chronosync. I am a touch typist and find typing much easier than writing, because typing I can keep up with my own thoughts. I need to work in silence, surrounded by books and the internet to look things up.

I have found that by writing have I been able to learn to write. Lately, to my joy, I have been able to actually sit down and think what the main points are I need to make and where I want to go with my argument. But then, once again, I can only really develop the argument properly by writing. I need three or four revisions before I get to where I want to be. Whenever I am stuck I know I must leave it and preferably go for an extremely long walk. Eventually, either during the walk, or just suddenly during the washing up, it becomes crystal clear how to proceed. Until that moment I just wait and do something else.

Srivener helps me keep track of many many loose thoughts in an organised way. I have not yet started a new project on it, but look forward to making the most of this excellent program for future projects. DevonThink helps me search. OmniOutliner is my sidekick outliner. Word not my program of choice, but what I've been used to for twenty years.

Finally: Scrivener is great and its website a great place to meet.

M

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Hugh
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Thu May 31, 2007 10:23 am Post

michaelbywater from Footnotes thread wrote: ... when I go to literary events, what I really want is not to hear the author reading in a solemn voice from his/her latest masterpiece. What I really want to know is how the bugger gets the writing done. I try to adopt this in my own talks and so on, too. All writers (fiction, non-fiction, screen, stage, academic) believe that the next guy knows a secret that we don't. And all the non-writers in the audience are actually fascinated how we do it...


Exactly. Perhaps it's the fault of the people who run these events and specify the topics; perhaps it's what they think we the audience think we want to hear. But process, not product, say I.

And yet, and yet. So reticent do many well-known writers seem to be about process, even when asked direct questions about it, that I wonder whether some of them believe it is the most profound of their trade secrets. However irrational, there appears to be a deep-seated fear of letting this particular cat out of the bag.

I also wonder whether a study of writing process, whilst undoubtedly fascinating, is very important as a guide to others. So diverse are different writers' practices, even when the circumstances in which they work seem to be similar, that I question whether there is an overall "model for success" (other than of course Robert Towne's famous advice "Just finish").

Me? In the afternoon or evening I write in longhand on yellow legal pads with a fountain pen. I try to complete a thousand words, more if I can. The next morning, I type up, revising as I go. Nowadays, of course, with Scrivener. :D

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antony
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Thu May 31, 2007 10:44 am Post

Hugh wrote:And yet, and yet. So reticent do many well-known writers seem to be about process, even when asked direct questions about it, that I wonder whether some of them believe it is the most profound of their trade secrets. However irrational, there appears to be a deep-seated fear of letting this particular cat out of the bag.


I think it's more likely that most of us don't really understand how it works, and many don't *want* to know out of an irrational, but nevertheless real fear that if we examine 'how we create' it will somehow rob us of inspiration.

Also, 'the process' is a very dull and pedestrian thing to explain. Many aspiring authors labour under the misapprehension that it's a massive, blinding flash of inspiration followed by the words pouring out in a non-stop frenzy of typing until the story is done. The harsh reality of false starts, procrastination, lack of inspiration, gruelling days of 100 words that are promptly deleted, and sheer hard graft, is something many authors find embarrassing to talk about - even to other professionals.
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Siren
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Thu May 31, 2007 11:07 am Post

Hugh wrote:So reticent do many well-known writers seem to be about process, even when asked direct questions about it, that I wonder whether some of them believe it is the most profound of their trade secrets. However irrational, there appears to be a deep-seated fear of letting this particular cat out of the bag.

Or maybe there is no great secret? Maybe they're floundering as much as less famed writers but just muddle through and haven't thought of what they do as being a process? Maybe such authors are scared to say what they do in case their audience thinks they're not "doing it right"? I know I'd be a bit wary of exposing my procrastinatory processes to public scrutiny (not that I'm a famous author or anything, so nobody is going to ask me!) :-)

I went on a course recently (nothing to do with writing, but a little bit to do with aesthetics and the early Romantics) and was told a story about Yeats (I think it was Yeats, anyway). One of his poems met with an amazing public reception, and people kept asking him how he had written such a masterpiece. He said that it had come to him as a sort of divine inspiration, and he just wrote it down, all at once, and that was all there was to it. When he died, amongst his papers they found draft after amended draft of this poem, all scoring-outs and scribblings, proving that he had promoted a myth which had nothing to do with his actual work practice.

Did he want people to believe he was such a good poet that he only had to write things once? Was he ashamed to admit how much effort the poem had taken, lest people think that the work was somehow artificial? Or was he merely trying to conform to the remnants of the great Romantic model in which truly good writing came from a link with the divine, and therefore had no need for laboured revision?

I think we have shadows of that aesthetic value in our culture today. People still have a tendency to admire the "creative genius" whose "inspired" art is instinctive and appears easy, even if we no longer believe that inspiration to be truly divine in origin. And I think that many writers secretly yearn to be in that position themselves, so they tend to play down the more prosaic parts of the process... further complicated by a sort of modesty which creeps in sometimes - the literary equivalent of saying "what, this old thing? I got it in a sale ages ago".

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Maria
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Thu May 31, 2007 12:50 pm Post

Genius or labour? I think both, and both is pleasure.

I am a non-fiction writer / researcher mainly, but some day two years ago I somehow started writing. I would say these many many words that had to be written were not so much from inspiration, but neither were they the outcome of labour, they had to be written for I do not know which reason. It was so great to see all this growing, thousands of words every day, and when I went to sleep there were still so many things that had to be written, so it had to go on next day early in the morning. The story was written in a few months, and now re-writing every scene again and again like a poem, seeing how things become like they should be, this is another pleasure, the pleasure of seeing the outcome after hard work. This is labour, but wonderful.

I think this cannot be called inspiration, but this urgence to write was quite special. I hope for the next novels to get back into that mood again...

And as for non-fiction writing: There may be academical writers who write with their index cards in mind and those who have an idea or some more and have to get it sorted out. When the idea is there, it has to be written, not so different to the experience I described above, pleasure again :)


Maria

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Thu May 31, 2007 1:10 pm Post

I've studied many author's manuscripts and can confirm that no one appears to write from divine inspiration. Every draft shows deletions, insertions, marginal notes, rearrangements, and reversals of earlier revisions. Coleridge said poetry was the best words, in the best order. Getting there is hard labor, and conscious craft. But still, when writing goes well, it creates a sense of flow and direction. Sometimes, it seems as though an inner voice is saying what to write. Maybe inspiration is insanity, but under control? The Greeks called it divine madness.

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werebear
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Sat Jul 14, 2007 3:26 pm Post

My own curiosity as a writer, with other writers, is the process, because the work should speak for itself.

But the nuts & bolts; everybody has had a rough patch that got smoothed out with the right approach. So now we are curious about approaches... what to do when we are stuck. Rewrite? Recast? Repent?

Even if someone else's tricks won't work for me, they could inspire a trick of my own. As humans, we are helplessly dependent on models. It is difficult to come up with a truly original idea out of the blue, but by rearranging models we can compare & contrast our way to a new idea.

I think that's why I love to talk shop.
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zikade
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Sat Jul 28, 2007 5:47 pm Post

Even if someone else's tricks won't work for me, they could inspire a trick of my own. As humans, we are helplessly dependent on models. It is difficult to come up with a truly original idea out of the blue, but by rearranging models we can compare & contrast our way to a new idea.


Really? Well then, here is mine: I try to see everything like a movie. Rearragning some scenes here, another cut there and so on. Afterwards, its just like writing down the movie I just 'saw' within my head. But there are some drawbacks: first of all, the movie I create has anything in it but words. I can actually 'see' one of my characters sitting in a old monastery, studying some old parchments while in the back there is a fireplace, as old as the surrounding stone, dark from frequent use during a lot of centuries. This place has a pretty unique smell, like...
Well, and so on.

Sometimes it is pretty straightforward, sometimes it takes a lot of time - weeks, perhaps - to find the right words, the right descriptions, the right references until I am quite certain that somebody else might be able to read this part of the story and perceives it in a similar way.

I truly think there is neither a secret nor a methodilogy upon which somebody can get a original idea.

If you write a poem, say about love - what I think you should care about are not words but the feeling. Feeling is not about words, nor is it smell or the sound of a treetop in the wind.

Language is an abstraction of perception and thats why it remains pretty difficult to write someting original. That is, until somebody bright comes along and develops a language which is more of a direct translation of perceptions.

I could go on for hours, probably because I used to teach story development some years ago, but one thing should be said: As important as the words you chose for composing your story are the words you did NOT chose for it.