Writing Longhand: Tips and Tricks — November 17, 2011

Writing Longhand: Tips and Tricks

I talked last Thursday about why I write longhand.  Today I’m sharing my tips and tricks for effective longhand writing.

Now, writing longhand can get kind of messy.  Especially if you’re making changes later in the book that affect earlier sections.  Also, formatting.  Dialogue and such can all be formatted as you go, jumping down to the next line on the page, etcetera.  Italics (for inner thoughts, writings, dreams, etcetera) gets tricky.

Here are some tips for writing longhand, if you’re wanting to take the plunge and try writing longhand first.

Tip #1: Use college-ruled paper.  Okay, maybe this is more of a personal preference, but the narrower lines allow more lines per page which equals more space in each notebook to write.

Tip #2: Use a notebook that feels right in your hands.  For Oracles Promise (I won’t let this project go), I used spiral notebooks you can buy at Barnes & Noble or other stationery stores.  These one have hard fronts and backs with pretty designs and aren’t always 8 1/2″x11″ paper formats.  Pretty, but expensive.  For Mirror, Mirror, I used 70-sheet college-ruled spiral notebooks you can buy for cheap in the grocery store’s school supplies aisle.

Tip #3: Find a good pen.  I like to use Bic Ultra Round Stic Grip.*  But that’s only because Pilot stopped making my favorite writing pen ever.  *sniff*

Tip #4: Learn BBC code to help with your formatting notes.  The main one I use is the [i] and [/i] combination.  (Using preview to see if that went wonky on me…sweet, using spaces worked.)  This sets off passages as I transcribe so I know what needs to be in italics.  If you need something bolded or underlined (I can’t imagine) use the brackets with the letters b or u in them.  This will help your transcription, I promise.  (Unless you’re typing late at night.  Then you might just inadvertently literally transcribe your code and have to fix it several drafts from now.)

Tip #5: Do not transcribe as you go.  The entire point of this is to focus on the narration and action not the word count number.  If you transcribe at the end of each day, it sort of defeats the purpose.  Sure you’ll figure out what you can average per set number of pages and estimate that way, but try not to think about it.  I do recommend transcribing when you finish a notebook.  (My latest WiP took a little less than two spiral notebooks.  When I finished #1 I typed it out and then wrote the rest of the story in #2.  Now I’m typing it out.)

Tip #6: Enjoy your distraction-free writing time. The beauty of writing longhand is that it allows you to take your lightweight notebook with you wherever you wish so you can squeeze out some words while you wait somewhere on someone.

*No one paid me to say any of this or anything. I just like these pens.

That’s it for now, folks. I’m taking a blog break next week because of the holiday but I’ll be back at the end of the month. Happy Thanksgiving to all my US readers who celebrate. Happy rest of November to those outside the US or who don’t do anything for Thanksgiving.

Why I Write Longhand — November 10, 2011

Why I Write Longhand

All right.  It’s no secret here on the blog that I love to write longhand when I’m working on a novel.  I’ve pretty much alternated project-to-project with how I write it, whether it’s straight into the computer or longhand first.
I’ve discovered time and again that I do prefer writing longhand first.  Here’s why.
1) Writing longhand helps me to focus on story over word count.  I can estimate a word count, but that’s only an average count.  Some pages might come out with far fewer words, depending on how much dialogue is there.  (I’m a classic under-writer and have to add in scenery so I have more than just floating heads.)
2) No internet.  Internet=evil.  Internet use is counter to productivity.  If you write longhand you’re not on the computer.  Far fewer distractions.
3) Ease of editing.  Okay, now I know what you’re thinking.  How easy can editing be when you’re writing on paper and it’s hard to erase?  You don’t edit when you’re actually writing it.  The quick edits come when you’re typing it into the computer.  So often as I’m transcribing I find that the saids which are so easy to write out when you’re on a roll aren’t necessary.  Also, you get to really see just how conversations are working as you type it out fresh rather than looking at what’s already typed in a future edit and wondering how the scene is working.
4) Portability.  I can take my notebook and iPod pretty much anywhere I want.  Yes, I do have the project binder sitting on my lap so I can reference maps and calendars and all the rest that I need, but the notebook is so much lighter than an actual computer.
Ideas — September 22, 2009


The philosopher Carl Jung discussed at length the concept of a universal consciousness.  This consciousness is a well-spring of ideas and memes that are as old as the universe itself.  Within it are various archetypes that we as humans encounter on a daily basis.

I’ll spare you the specifics of Jung’s philosophizing.  The point here is this: There really aren’t many original ideas.

Some quotes to kick us off:

“Don’t worry if you’ve seen the shot before–you can still make it your own.”  (My apologies to the author of this quote.  I didn’t get the chance to write it down.  The man who said it was doling out a nugget of advice for aspiring directors during a bit at the Emmys on Sunday night.  And I might not even have the quote completely right.  But you get the point.)

“Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old dea and thinks it is his own.”- Sidney J. Harris

OK, so that last one’s a little harsh sounding.  But work with me here.

The first quote goes along with Jung’s theories.  There are universal memes and ideas that we encounter regularly.  I’ve had this struggle in my own writing.  In fact, the genesis inspiration of my short story that I’m publishing here on the blog was a TV show.  I was curious as to how the concept they worked with on the show would work if the characters were Mormons.  Now, while the characters in my story aren’t overtly members of the LDS faith, I wrote them as being such.

This is an example of taking an idea or concept that may be more universal and putting your own spin on it.  So while the second quote is harsh, it’s really a warning against plagiarism.  And a nugget of sage advice to work to put your own spin on an idea.

Two weeks ago almost I had thoughts that my novel, Oracles Promise, and the trilogy to which it belongs would have to be scrapped entirely.  This was because there’s a certain plot element that bore eerie resemblance to something else I’d read in a book.  But as I thought about it, I realized that it was one of those universal consciousness ideas that float around, but that I’d put my own take on the bones of it all.

What’s my point?  “Don’t worry if you’ve seen the shot [idea] before–you can still make it your own.”

And don’t let the fact that you may have seen a small bit of your concept before deter you.  You never know, you might come up with some twist on it that will make it completely fresh and original!

Writers’ Golf Bag — September 3, 2009

Writers’ Golf Bag

Golf and writing are actually two very similar pursuits. Don’t believe me? Stop scoffing and laughing into your hands. I’ll explain.

Here’s my golf bag. Ain’t it pretty?

I have 11 clubs, not quite a full set legally allowed under PGA and LPGA rules. Legally you can carry 14 clubs in your bag at any given time on a course during the round of play. The head covers are just to keep the woods, hybrids, and my putter looking nice. My soft-spiked shoes, glove, balls, tees, and a towel for cleaning the club heads are there as well.

Golf for the most part is a solitary pursuit. Sure it’s more entertaining to go play nine holes in a foursome, but the majority of your golfing life will be spent on the driving range. Alone, you and the ball that defies you to make it move (to paraphrase from Golf for Dummies) just sitting there on the grass at your feet. There are the goal markers, the poles which tell you how far you’ve hit the ball, should you knock it that far. The course I play at has a first marker at 102 yards. It’s a good goal to aim at as a beginning (and I do mean beginning) golfer.

Each club serves a different purpose. (My apologies to those who golf. I don’t want to lose anyone by getting caught up in jargon.)

The 1 wood is your driver. It’s what you will usually tee up with, but that depends on the course. If it’s a par 3 course you’re more likely to only need your fairway woods (the 3 and 5 woods or metals). These are the clubs with the big heads that make a very satisfying hollow thwack when you hit the ball right. The driver and the woods are for distance. Your goal when you swing these is to get the ball in the way of the club face at just the right moment so that it goes the farthest distance it can possibly go.

The 5 and 6 hybrid clubs are for an entirely different purpose. They’re designed with the best features of your woods and irons. This gives you distance with a certain dose of accuracy.

Then there are your irons. My set contains a 7, 8, and 9 iron. These are your accuracy clubs. You want to use these when you’re within sight of the green; when you can see that flag stick and know the hole is in reach.

I also have a pitching wedge, a sand wedge, and a putter. These are your short game clubs. Short game is just the part of the hole (which should be the majority of the hole) where you’re trying to move the ball less than 75 yards (an arbitrary, made-up number I am throwing in). Well, the sand wedge is really for getting out of the bunker. This is when you’re on the green and you see that cup sitting there in the ground, taunting you.

Your ball marker is for marking the position of the ball on the green so you can pick the ball up, clean it, or keep it out of the putting line of your playing companions. It’s a placeholder. But it’s very important to the game as the green is the only place on the course you’re allowed to pick up your ball.

Shoes are important for keeping traction while not destroying the fairways and greens. Soft-spiked shoes are especially useful for this.

The towel is important, particularly on wet days. Grass and mud interfere with proper interaction between club head and ball.

The tee is the starting point. It helps you position the ball right for a good launching point.

The ball is the point of the entire game so a golf bag would be useless without a plethora of balls. (Especially considering you’re more likely to lose a ball than play through an entire round of golf on the same ball.)

Still awake?

How does this relate to writing?

Well, writing is solitary. Especially in the early stages when you’re not a published author. When you’re working towards that debut novel, or biography, or memoir, etc.

Here are the tools that these beginning writers need:

1 wood: It’s your story that is screaming at you to be told. It’s what makes you write. It’s your muse.

3 and 5 wood: These are the outlines. The plot that runs through your head. You can see the far distance because you’re knocking it that way.

5 and 6 hybrids: Critique groups and beta readers. Your crit group is there for the accuracy. They help you to hone your craft, improve your prose, and generally help you make your work the best it possibly can be. Beta readers comprise the distance component of the hybrid because while they should be helping catch gross oversights in continuity and such things, they’re also to give you encouragement and keep you going through the revisions. They’re the ones who can see the spark and will help you see it too. That way you keep writing through all the constructive criticism and the harsh realities of publishing.

7-9 irons: Research, world-building, and careful crafting of characters on multiple levels. In essence, the mechanics of the craft.

Pitching wedge: Drafts. The first time I ever learned to swing a golf club, we started on pitch shots. It’s really half the swing of the full that you’d normally do. It’s a warm-up, but it’s also a good training tool. Drafts are essentially the same thing. Through pitch shots you develop muscle memory. Through drafting you develop muscle memory. Through both you improve your abilities.

Sand wedge: Butt in chair. The only way to get out of a tight spot is to sit and write. You’ll eventually find your way out of it. Then you can go back and use that pitching wedge to get yourself back on track.

Putter: I find myself writing little bits of future chapters, the end of the book, etc. just as a motivator to keep going. These little tidbits are the flag stick on the green and you use your putter to get you that short distance ahead of yourself. You don’t have to go very far so you can easily read (and mis-read) the green. Your story may break further to the left or right than you anticipated, but you’re at least aiming for the intermediary goal in sight.

Glove: The writing pen. Or your keyboard, depending on how you go about writing. It’s essential once you start using it and helps to keep the process going smoothly on your hands. And in general.

Tees: The initial idea that sparks the solo journey of writing.

Shoes: Your support group, whomever it may be. (Or is that whoever?) It can be your family, if they’re the ones who encourage you most on your crazy path in life. You decide. But it’s an essential part of this writing life. Just as a good pair of shoes is essential for keeping your balance on the golf course.

Ball marker: Your progress. Whether it’s a status bar you put on your blog, checking off one more thing on your outline, or writing “The End.” You put them down to mark where you are, but they’re non-intrusive so you can putt right over them and move on to the next item of business.

Towel: Editors and/or agents. They help you shine the manuscript beyond what you can do yourself. They are there to make sure there’s minimal interference between the manuscript sitting on the desk and getting put through the printer and shipped off in published form to booksellers everywhere.

Balls: Ah, the most important and critical tool of all. A writer’s golf ball equates to the words we use to tell our story. And that is the most crucial aspect of all.

So, still awake? OK. Good. Now you can quibble with me all you want over whether you agree or disagree with me on these points.

Exorcising the Inner Critic — August 7, 2009

Exorcising the Inner Critic

My inner critic loves to come out and play. A lot. Especially when my overactive brain starts to kick in and read far too much in other peoples’ actions, reactions, and speech. The harshest blows to my psyche from this inner critic come in relation to things that happen involving the opposite sex. It’s stupid, I know, but I can’t help it. I know I’m not the only one who deals with her inner critic. Natalie over at Between Fact and Fiction posted about it today as she’s gone back into writing mode after revising for a good while.

I could label my inner critic a “he,” but I’ve never known a guy as catty, cynical, snide, or debasing as my inner critic. But I’ve known plenty of girls that were that way. So it may be a bit cliche, but my inner critic is a she.

We have to exorcise our inner critic, at least in the early stages of writing. We have to learn to recognize the critic’s destructive comments from the constructive ones.


I took a class in graduate school called “Meditation and Writing.” Or something like that. (Sorry, Michael.) It was a one-week course (easiest 3 credits I’ve ever earned), five days for 8 hours or so. We spent the morning doing free-writing exercises, meditating, and discussing the textbook for the course. (I know, right? A textbook for a 1-week class? We didn’t read the whole thing.) This book is titled The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’ve yet to go through the entire 12 week process she outlines in her book. But there’s one thing she discusses that I’ve done consistently for nearly the last 2 months.

Morning pages.

What are morning pages you ask? To quote Ms. Cameron: “Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.”

I write them first thing (usually), before I even get out of my bed.

These pages are most often filled with random ramblings about various things, sometimes I’ll put in my latest number of blog followers if it’s something that runs through my head. The general idea is to just get the negativity out onto paper first thing in the morning so that it’s not with you so much in the day.

When I first started out with the morning pages I really couldn’t see a benefit. They were still so negative and directionless. I often would put in a to-do list or a to-read list just to fill the pages faster. It does take a long time to do this. Usually about 45-50 minutes or even longer depending on how much is running through my head.

Today I realized that the pages aren’t as negative any more. In fact, now I mostly ramble about what I wrote or accomplished writing-wise, where I need to go, questions that I need to answer for myself so that my book isn’t completely directionless, etc. There are still the occasionally snarky comments from my inner critic, but I’m slowly silencing her and exorcising her presence from my writing life.

Wordle — July 19, 2009
Author’s Friend: Bookstore Bargain — June 23, 2009

Author’s Friend: Bookstore Bargain

Bookstore Bargain: I miss you, friend. You spend so little time with me of late. Novice Writer Anonymous, why do you not come visit me?

NWA: But, Bargain, you’re such a dangerous friend to have! I can’t spend more than a few minutes with you at a time!

BB: What?! Me?! Dangerous? Lies! Who has told you such lies?

NWA: No one has told me lies. I know what dangers lay in your deep shelves. They can be very tantalizing dangers, though, I will admit. But I haven’t the resources to plumb your depths and avoid the dangers.

BB: Tell me what these dangers are? I offer you such wonderful treasures.

NWA: Yes, it’s true that you can be very helpful. I have found many a useful tome in your shelves. But it has been many months since I did so. There hasn’t been anything interesting, pertinent, or appealing to the eye in your treasures lately.

BB: But if you’d just spend more time with me I know I can find you something really valuable. Remember that book on world mythology you got? That’s proved invaluable hasn’t it? And what about that character traits book?

NWA: I’ll admit those were helpful. But I have bought so many books from your collection that there is nothing new that I absolutely need.

BB: But I’m so budget-friendly!

NWA: That’s the danger I spoke of!

BB: How is that a danger?

NWA: Your stores are so cheap that I can easily get carried away and end up going over my budget!

BB: Spend more time with me and I’ll help you find the most valuable of all my works.

Must-reads from industry blogs — June 20, 2009
Get advice from a pro! — June 11, 2009
Wallowing in Backstory —

Wallowing in Backstory

Alas, here I sit, pondering what to write next in all the backstory and worldbuilding I’m trying to complete. Really, all I want to be doing at the moment is writing, finishing the novel, re-writing, editing, re-writing, and the cycle goes on and on.

Nathan Bransford‘s blog today began a serious discussion of how to know when your manuscript is done. It made me wish that I was at this stage in the process, to be revising a manuscript that went from start to finish. Instead, I wallow in backstory as I try to discover exactly where my passion for writing disappeared to.

Then I realize, that passion was dispelled by lack of time. I’ve been in graduate school for the last two years and regrettably was preoccupied with other things. This summer is to be a renaissance of my passion and love of writing.

Just as soon as I can nail down every last bit of backstory. *sigh*