I’m in the final act of a new novel. When I was writing first drafts on a computer this stage always felt like a race. Both because I wanted to be done with the story and because I have never felt very comfortable writing endings. The result usually felt very rushed and always took a lot of work in edits to improve it. The ending was where I would add the most words.
I have been writing first drafts longhand for a while now, but this is the first novel. The process of writing longhand means that I am forced to go more slowly and think about what I’m writing. I’m hoping it means that the end result is better.
But that’s not the main benefit I’m finding by writing longhand. As far as I’m concerned the best part of doing it this way is how much more I’m enjoying it. I feel more connected to the story and I think that’s going to mean the story is better.
I didn’t expect everything to change this weekend. Least of all did I expect it to happen while I was watching Jay & Silent Bob Reboot but that’s kind of what happened.
I would never have described myself as a Kevin Smith fanboy. I mean I liked his films and, back when I was at college planning to become a film maker, I was inspired by his career which at the time had gone from making Clerks for next to no money to making Dogma which I absolutely loved and was one of the things (along with His Dark Materials) that showed me you could use religion in stories and not worry about who you offended.
I was at college when Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back was released and maybe that had something to do with it because there’s no better way to realise how much time has passed than by seeing a fully grown adult playing one of the main characters who was playing a baby in the first film.
But that’s not the revelation I had. That’s more like a description of the comfortable nostalgia I felt while I was watching the film.
And the film was a catalyst for change rather than a revelation itself, the final straw in something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. It seems a lot more obvious now that I’m writing these words, but I think that for a long time I was blind to it. It might seem like a dumb thing to say, but it was important to me, so I am going to give it its own line. I realised that:
I have been putting much more effort into trying to convince myself that I am a writer, than to actually writing.
It was all the other shit that I was doing that seemed like the kind of thing a writer would do but wasn’t actually “the work”. It was stuff that I know other writers do (and probably get a lot of value out of, but we’re not all the same) and knowing that I did it as well made me feel like I was a writer as well. All the while ignoring the simple fact that the ONLY thing that makes someone a writer is doing the actual writing!
So things have changed in my head now. After watching Jay & Silent Bob Reboot on Saturday night I read all of Kevin Smith’s Tough Shit on Sunday and, apart from some now very awkward references to Harvey Weinstein, that book really solidified things for me. The way I think about all of this has changed and inevitably that means that the stuff I do is going to change. More writing, less of the stuff that only made me feel like a writer.
On Sunday I was out running. I set myself the goal of doing 10K, which, after a couple of months of only running 5K’s, I was worried about. I set out, not sure that I could manage it and in the end I did. What helped immensely was that I stopped thinking about running the whole distance. I looked at the road ahead of me and focused on getting about ten metres ahead. And it occurred to me that there’s a lesson to be learned there.
When I run a 5K I can hold the whole thing in my head: I can think about the complete distance and still get through it, but I don’t seem able to do the same with a 10K. Which isn’t to say that I’m not capable of running a longer distance, physically I am capable but not mentally. So is the same true in other areas of life? I think so.
I can sit down and write every day, that much I can visualise, but I can’t conceptually publish a book when I’m staring at a blank page.
It’s a difficult balancing act I think. With running I had to hold the aim of running a 10K somewhere in my mind, in the same way that when I’m writing I hold the aim of publishing a story, but that wasn’t actually what I was doing. When I was running I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other. When I’m writing I focus on putting the next sentence down.
And I think that focus is the key here. What we chose to focus on can make a big difference. If you choose to focus on the biggest thing your mind can conceptualise then you could look at all the small achievements that go towards that as nothing. And at the same time you might find that it limits what you actually achieve. If the biggest thing I could view in one go was a 5K then maybe I would never run a 10K. It’s not a limiting belief in the same way as thinking ‘I can’t do X‘ but it might have the same impact.
Which is why habits are so important. I have the habit of writing every day, that’s all I need to think about when I’m sitting down.
As of now I am on annual leave for a week (ten days if you count the weekends and bank holidays). I have decided that I am also going to stop using a computer during this time so there won’t be any blog posts from me until 14th April.
I think it’s important, from time to time, to step away from our usual routines and examine other aspects of life. In addition to that, I don’t want to give myself the opportunity to read the news or waste time doing other things online.
My plans are to write (in my notebooks), do some gardening and spend time with my family. We will probably watch a few films among other things. I will also go running a few times and help out my elderly neighbours by collecting prescriptions and going shopping.
We had been planning to go to Scotland for the week, but obviously that’s no longer an option. Even so, there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve staring at a computer screen.
I use seven different notebooks on an (almost) daily basis. It seems like a lot, and maybe it is, but I have tried using fewer and it doesn’t work as well for me. I have also tried using digital methods, and while it is convenient to have all of my notebooks with me at all times, I don’t enjoy it as much. And, while the digital method might only require one device, it still splits things across multiple applications, so I don’t think I am much better off that way.
These are my notebooks and what I currently use them for:
Starting from the top
My pocket notebook, I carry this everywhere for making quick notes
My log book, at the end of every day I write down the things that I have done
I am part of a climate action group and this is where I keep my notes from meetings
My reading list, this is where I write down the books that I have read
My writing book, this is where I write my first drafts
I have been considering returning to blogging for a long time. There are a lot of things that I like about the process. The only questions I had was the form it would take. For a while I thought it would be launching a new blog because I had something specific that I wanted to write about. That blog was going to be called Analogue Methods and I got as far as looking up the domain name, but no further.
Since I started writing here again a couple of weeks ago the idea of running two blogs has been on my mind and, to be honest, I don’t want to do that. Even with a new abundance of time. So I am going to start putting the content that would have gone on that other website here.
What is analogue methods
There are a LOT of website out there that focus on digital tools and how to use them. There are also a lot of website about stationery. Analogue Methods fits somewhere in between those two things.
I use a lot of notebooks and pens, most of my life is organised with analogue tools. In my opinion they are the superior option in almost every instance. Most of the time they are less efficient, but that is why I think they are valuable. They give the user time to think and to contemplate and I don’t want everything in my life to be optimised for efficiency. I want most of my life to be optimised for enjoyment.
Analogue Methods is my attempt to write about how I do that. The systems I have and the tools I use.
I will probably write about notebooks and pens and other tools, but that isn’t the point. I am not writing with expensive pens and I don’t think that you need to. What I want to write about most is the reasons why this stuff works and how you can try it out for yourself. I do a lot of experimenting and it seems like something that could be useful to a lot of people.
Look out for upcoming posts. I don’t have a schedule or anything but they are coming and I have created a new category so that you can see all of them in one list.
There is too much going on right now. It was my intention not to write about the Coronavirus here but how can I do anything else. Even if I don’t mention it directly, it is safe to say that it is in the background of everything I think about at the moment. How could it not be? Going out of my way to not refer to a major current event that’s affecting the whole world would be extremely obtuse.
Having said that…
At the moment everything feels like a struggle. My natural inclination seems to be to scour the internet news sites and social media as if doing that will keep me and my family safe. What I should really be doing is writing and reading but, however much I enjoy those activities, they offer medium/long term rewards whereas surfing the latest breaking news is instant gratification (albeit with a heavy dose of medium/long term anxiety).
Which is why I am doing my best to make it easy to read and to write. The two fiction books I have on the go at the moment are short story collections and the non-fiction book is about writing. I am also reading them in digital formats (which is uncommon for me lately, but certainly the most convenient format) so they are available on my phone as well as my Kobo reader. I am setting myself limits for when I can check the news and trying my hardest to stick to them. I don’t succeed as often as I would like.
This situation is hard but I am determined not to fall apart and go back to my bad old habits. If I can’t make the progress I originally wanted, I can at least not make it any worse. I am doing my best to make it easy to make the right choices.
When I spend too much time online (reading news, Reddit, blogs, etc.) it isn’t immediately obvious how much of an impact it has. In my day to day life I can usually manage to function and continue doing all the things that I need to do. It would be easy to convince myself that it doesn’t really have an impact beyond the time I spend doing it, but I also know that isn’t true.
Every morning I get up and write in my journal. It’s free-thought stuff kind of like Morning Pages but I keep it like a journal so that if I ever want to go back and look at them I can. If I have a good day then the following morning my journal is focused and tends to follow one line of thought from beginning to end. If I have a bad day then it affects me like a hangover. When I sit down to write my journal I can’t keep to a single line of thought for more than a paragraph, my mind skips all over the place and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anything done. It feels awkward and stilted.
And I know that this is just a visible symptom of the problem. That same distracted style of thought is present everywhere and in everything I do and it can take a couple of days to get over it.
A lot has changed since I was blogging last year and frankly I have gone back and forth between different methods of writing for the last year or so now, but I am now reasonably settled in the way I write.
When I first started writing and publishing I did everything on a computer. I used an app on my phone and computer to store notes for ideas and all of my planning was also done on a computer. Likewise I wrote all of my first drafts on a computer and could, on a good day, rattle off 5,000 words, although my average was about 3,000. I also edited on a computer. Doing things this way meant I could publish a short novel a month, and I was building up a backlog of stories that would allow me to take time off without missing any of my planned release dates. I was also “stacking” stories, so I always had one story in planning, one in first draft and one in editing/publishing. I was very “productive”.
My stories don’t touch a computer until there is a complete first draft. I do all of my note taking, planning and first draft writing in a variety of notebooks. I write my first drafts with a fountain pen. I am a lot slower this way. On a good day I probably get 1,000 words written. I am focusing on one story at a time. In a stories published sense I am not very productive.
Why the change
I first tried this out over a year ago and over the next few months I went back and forth because I am a magpie and continually attracted to shiny new apps and tools. But as I said at the start, I think the change is going to stick this time. As to why I did this, well there are a couple of reasons:
I enjoy the process more. It’s more fun to write in a notebook
I think it produces a better story. I know there is a lot of debate on this subject, but honestly, I think slowing down a bit means I can write better
I need to do better at the first to second draft part of the process. Currently I have a number of stories that are a complete first draft and I need to get better at typing them up and editing them. And publishing as well. I have one story that is complete and ready to go, but I just haven’t gotten around to putting it on the various sales platforms.