Everything Old…


Eat my shoe,

I have a secret,

And so do you.

Petey always said that whenever a grown-up asked him to do something that sounded dodgy. He seemed to regard it as some sort of incantation against something that was both unpleasant and inevitable. Or else, it was a stalling tactic, I never knew which. Evie just stood to one side, glaring at me.

The paragraph above was what was in my head two days ago when I woke up. Exactly in those words. So I got up and wrote them down on a small steno pad and set about setting up my laptop. A story was unfolding itself in my head. It was exciting. It was fresh. It was original. After turning on the laptop, making sure it had enough power, opening my word program, selecting the styles, I placed my fingers on the keys and…


Between the inspiration and the technology, everything went clean out of my head.

This used to happen to me a lot. When I was in college (twenty years ago now, eep!), I could never write any papers on a computer without writing it by hand first. Sometimes that blinking cursor can be powerfully distracting. There’s an immediacy to the act of writing with a pen that the keyboard can’t match. The screen seems too far away from my eyes, and the distance is telling.

Then, too, there’s the whole question of chair placement and posture that always made me feel like Goldilocks trying to find something that was just right. I seldom found that happy state in the computer lab at the university I attended. Or at home, for that matter.

Write by hand, however, and you can pile  pillows on your bed or lie on your stomach on the couch with your favorite fountain pen and a cat draped over your butt and scribble away. Because, let’s face it, your butt is the cushiest place on that couch, and warm besides, so why wouldn’t the cat lie on it? My favorite writing spot was always my bed, where I could build a nest of pillows, pen in hand, and sip hot chocolate without fear of spilling anything on expensive hardware.

Of course, most of history’s great works have been hand-written. Shakespeare wrote with a quill. Probably Jane Austen did as well. Sherlock Holmes was born from the tip of a steel nib pen. Even after typewriters were born, writers continued to write out their first drafts by hand. Hemingway carried little notebooks that made Moleskine famous. Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, and Joyce Carol Oates all write their first drafts in longhand.

While I haven’t yet written an entire novel that way, when I’m feeling especially stuck on something I find that getting out a notebook and a pen helps to knock things loose and I can reconnect with the story. I can’t say why this works, but it does.

So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, try writing by hand. It can’t hurt,and it just may help.



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