‘Writing Right Like’ is a (much-neglected) series in which I set myself the challenge of writing using the methods employed by well-known authors, in order to see what can be learned from how they practice their craft. Last time we took a look at the way Neil Gaiman utilises handwritten first drafts of his stories to get things written, and I set myself the task of trying to complete the first draft of a story using nothing but a fancy notebook and a fountain pen (cos hey, go hard or go home).

Well, a month or two down the line and I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to complete said story in notebook form, port it over to electronic form and get it edited to the point where I don’t completely fucking hate it. With any luck there’s something to be learned from the whole process, so let me try to share those lessons here.

WHAT WORKS WITH NEIL GAIMAN’S METHODS?

Computers, phones and tablets might be incredible pieces of kit filled with cunning new ways to help you write, but they’re also chock-full of distractions. Games, social media, websites: all of them stand ready to draw your attention away from getting words written.

This, then, is where a notebook and pen really shines.

Writing using Gaiman’s techniques cuts out the technology and boils writing down to the absolute basics, giving you a place to put words down and a means to write them. That’s it, nothing more and nothing less. If you’re someone who often finds themselves sidetracked when attempting to write something using some manner of computer (ie. if you’re someone like me), then a notebook and pen can often allow you to produce a lot more in a shorter space of time than you would have otherwise.

It’s also really goddamn satisfying, especially with a fountain pen.

Using a notebook to write gives you a real sense of achievement as you progress, allowing you to flip back through the pages you’ve already filled to see just what you’ve managed to produce. Sure, word processors offer word count features but there’s something rather artificial about them: words on a page, meanwhile, are physical proof of progress being made. Not to mention the fact that there’s something quite hypnotising about the scratching of a fountain pen on good paper. It’s a process that draws you in and keeps you going, long after typing out your story on a keyboard might have got old.

Finally, there’s the convenience factor. A desktop PC isn’t going anywhere outside of the spot you’ve set it up. A laptop, tablet or phone might be more portable, but you’ll always be contending with limited battery life if you’re out and about without a means of charging them up again. Notebooks, meanwhile, require no charge, and a good pen isn’t going to run out of ink any time soon (assuming you don’t keep a few spare). Writing via notebooks allowed me to write in a range of spots I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise: trains, stations, my desk, hotel rooms and pubs, to name but a few. In terms of practicality in writing, it doesn’t come much better.

All of this isn’t to say that these methods didn’t come with downsides, however.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES WITH NEIL GAIMAN’S METHODS?

For better or worse, modern writers rely on word processors and computers to ply their craft and get their work up to scratch: gone are the days of typewriters, professional typists or even monks painstakingly etching out works. What this means is that even if you manage to get your work penned out in your notebook, you still need a means of getting it from paper to computer.

This, simply put, presents something of a challenge.

I’d imagine that for some people, this is where the idea of writing a story out in a notebook falls flat. No matter what happens you’re going to have to type it out, after all, so why not just skip the middleman from the start? Yet what this hypothetical argument fails to account for is the fact that no matter what you do, your first draft is always going to be kind of shit. No story comes out flawlessly, edits and drafts will always be required, so it really doesn’t matter if your first draft is on paper or .doc file: you’re going to be playing with it anyway.

Furthermore, transposing your drafted story from notebook to computer actually presents an opportunity under the guise of busybody work.

You don’t have to type it out verbatim, after all.

The way I eventually went about getting the story moved from notebook to text was to take a bunch of pictures of the story pages using an app called TinyScanner, then email the resulting PDF to myself. From there it was a pretty simple process of typing up in a document file what I had already written, but in doing so I had the opportunity to fix mistakes, spot continuity errors and re-word things where I could. In short, typing up the story was effectively a mini re-draft. What I thought would be the greatest challenge of this writing process actually turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise.

GOING FORWARD

Getting things written is normally a pretty stressful and frustrating process for me, something that the number of abandoned projects I have lurking in my hard drive can attest to. I get far too easily caught by the distractions my computer, tablet or phone might offer, killing the flow and concentration needed to really get into a serious writing session.

Neil Gaiman is therefore onto something pretty damn inspired with the methods described here, I reckon.

Since finishing the first story I’ve been able to move onto another project (which might be getting developed into my project for this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo, we shall see), and rather than letting it get lost on my hard drive amidst the video games and nihilist memes I’ve decided to keep using the notebook and pen. Not only does it allow me to get out into new spaces to write (something that can really help with the whole process), there’s something incredibly satisfying about the physical act of writing with a notebook and pen.

All in all, this option is inexpensive, practical, and pretty damn good fun. If you’re finding yourself similarly frustrated by word processors, then you may want to give Neil Gaiman’s approach a shot as well.