Writing Method Experiment

20180507_093600The day before my husband and oldest son went on a caribou hunt, I bought a vacuum sealer from a second hand store. It did not work. Annoyed, I returned it, and my annoyance was compounded by the fact that I could only return it for in store credit, and that credit had to be used immediately. (This was after being told at the time of purchase that yes, of course I could return the item, and nothing more was said. I feel like something more should have been said.)

In the midst of my discontented wanderings through the store, I came across a most beautiful thing- a vintage turquoise Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Of course, it was irrevocably broken, as all things in this shop seem to be. But still, it was fun to plink away on and I’m sorry I didn’t buy it. It would have been just lovely on my book case and I could have spent many happy hours tinkering with it in the vague hope that I could resurrect it and name it Lazarus, but my husband would have caught me trying to sneak it in the house and given me that look and really, I don’t have any room on the book cases anyway. Alas. (In other news, I need more book cases. And a bigger house.)

But just touching that typewriter made me feel suddenly more creative, and I hustled home (with a bunch of new books I’m not sure where to put and some curtains I’ll never use, curse you, vacuum sealer) and knocked out another chapter in the Copper book I posted a chapter from last month (read here!).

The typewriter got me thinking. Some writing methods work better for me than others. And some that work for me might not work for as well for other writers. So I thought it might be fun to spend some time writing using several different recording methods and see if any patterns emerged. I came up with several styles of writing that I wanted to try, and went forth, hoping that a victor would emerge in each of these categories: best for brainstorming; best for drafting; best for editing. Each of the following writing methods was ranked according to these categories. Read on for my own personal results!

Method: Longhand, cursive

I know so many people who draft in longhand. (Sadly, I don’t know anybody who still uses shorthand to write anything more than short notes, and I was too lazy to learn stenography for this.) I don’t normally draft in longhand so it was fun to give it a try.

Pros: very good for inspiring creativity; excellent for working out outlines of books and individual scenes; very accessible;

Cons: difficult for later editing; in nearly all cases, must be transcribed to a digital format for sharing;

Method: Longhand, print

Everyone I know who uses longhand for writing does it exclusively in cursive. So I though, ‘Huh! What’s wrong with print?’ And once I start asking questions, I gotta find answers. All in the name of science. Sort of.

Pros: actually somewhat better WPM than cursive (Ms. Hardman lied to me); accessible;

Cons: doesn’t feel quite as inspiring as cursive; same cons as cursive;

Method: Typing, computer

This is my workhorse. A solid ninety percent, maybe more, of my writing uses this method.

Pros: very quick WPM; easy to keep files together and organized; easy to share materials with others;

Cons: computer isn’t always accessible; I am so very, very bad at technology; screens make my eyeballs sad; inspirationally meh;

Method: Typing, mechanical typewriter

Wow it took me half of forever to scrounge one up to type on. I’d never used one this old before and I was a little afraid to touch it, haha. It didn’t type very well, but honestly, the thing is like a hundred years old and I’m really impressed it worked at all.

Pros: mega super fun; creatively inspiring; that little ding at the end of the line; general coolness; that typing sound- something about the clickety-clack of a typewriter just feels all inspired and literary;

Cons: SO HARD TO FIND; keys jammed when typing too fast; had to push the keys really deep to get the typebars up to the page; machine was old and I didn’t know how to change the ribbon (let alone where to get one); difficult to edit;

Method: Typing, electronic typewriter

I actually managed to scrounge up not one, but two of these- each of them in dusty storage rooms of increasingly underfunded libraries. Go figure.

Pros: halfway between an old typewriter and a computer for coolness and inspiration; able to keep up with my typing speed;

Cons: relatively obscure- difficult to procure, and doubtless difficult to keep in repair; difficult to edit;

Method: Audio Recording

This method started out at a steep disadvantage, largely because I hate the sound of my voice. Not enough that I’d consider ever shutting up, but still. (It really didn’t help that I’ve been sick and sniffly for the entire duration of this experiment.)

Pros: can be done relatively hands free once you hit record; thoughts can be recorded quickly; very accessible if you have a phone that takes recordings; assuming recording was on a phone, sharing is very easy;

Cons: Very self-conscious of doing character voices; self-conscious of my just normal human voice; how does editing even happen like this; must be transcribed into another format for editing and sharing; while it worked well for taking notes, it was TERRIBLE for doing actual prose or, even worse, dialog;

Results

There are many, many ways to record stories out there. And while I was tempted to bust out some clay tablets or carve on some tree bark, I by no means exhausted the possibilities. These are just the methods that I thought a decent percent of people might actually regularly use. (Maybe not the typewriters these days. That was more for fun.)

But anyway, here is some data because data is delicious.

  Words/2 min WPM Accessible Editing Sharing Inspiring
Longhand, cursive 48; 54 25.5 Easy Medium Difficult ****
Longhand, print 51; 57 27 Easy Medium Difficult ***
Typing, digital 142; 150 73 Easy Easy Easy ***
Typing, electronic typewriter 82; 83; 79; 77; 77; 78.8 Difficult Medium Difficult ****
Typing, mechanical typewriter Didn’t record Slooow WHYYY Medium Difficult *****
Audio recording 373 in 4 min 93.25 Easy Difficult Easy *

So the results are in and I think we have our winners! For brainstorming, I definitely did best with longhand cursive.  For drafting, digital typing (on my laptop) was hands down the winner, as it was for editing. Typing on a computer isn’t the most inspiring way for me to write, but it is the quickest and the easiest, and it’s way easier to edit and share than its counterparts.

But that’s just me! Seriously guys, this was great fun running this experiment. You should consider doing it yourselves. Just spend a few hours working away using each method and see if any patterns emerge. You never know when you might stumble across your next big breakthrough on putting out your best work.

Until next week, happy writing!

(PS- Warning: in a couple more weeks, I’ll be skipping the country again and I’ve slated about a month of not putting up blog posts, depending on how quickly I recover, etc. But I promise I’ll bring you back some cool pictures and new sample settings. More details to come.)

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How I Blog, Pt. 2: Drafting, Brainstorming

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D’awwww. Mommy’s sleepy li’l man-eater…

Look at all the pretties!  As you can see, I’ve made a few changes to the site: mostly superficial, but hopefully nice to look at.  If you have any other ideas for improvements, please, please, please let me know!

In the meantime, on with part two of my blogging system.  (If you missed last week, you can find part one here!)  Last week, I talked about how I do my scheduling.  But what is a schedule without the drafts and the ideas to back it up?

The Drafts

Directly following the schedule, I have the drafts, each separated by double-spacing and an all-caps title.  The drafts come in all degrees of doneness, from a rough outline, to just an introductory paragraph, to a final draft ready to be posted.  I have them written out chronologically, with the top of the queue at the top of the page.  It makes it easier for me to tell at a glance how much more work I need to do before posting, and how soon that work needs to be done.

When it’s not a NaNo month (because NaNo months are lazy months), I try to have first drafts done a week before posting, and final drafts done the day before posting.  That way, I have a bit of a buffer if something happens and I can’t write, or if the schedule needs to change with little notice.  It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s way less hectic for me when it does.

There are usually two to four active drafts in this section.  Some sit there for weeks or even months before I’m satisfied with them.  After a draft is finally posted, I delete it from the document to clear room for a new draft.

The Notes

Ideas

Down at the bottom of the document, I have the notes.  These are the ideas that are too ugly and vague and newborn to even have a scheduled slot yet.  This is the area I come to when I am scheduling a new quarter.

Filling It-

But how do you generate a robust notes section?

Any way you can.  Whatever gets your brain ticking, do those things.  I try to do my brainstorming- both for fiction and for blogging, depending on the mood- when I’m doing otherwise brainless tasks.  Washing dishes, chopping veggies, folding laundry, exercising, showering, etc…  We all have chores we have to do that don’t take too much thought; use that time to think about other things.  Keep track of interesting dreams, weird happenings at the supermarket, funny scenarios in the police blotter, whatever.  And whenever possible, have the means to write those ideas down immediately.

Another tactic to keep in mind: other writers probably have a lot of the same questions you do.  Quite a few of my blog posts have come about because I had questions- about craft, about querying, about social media- and spent a lot of time finding answers.  Why not write a blog post about those answers?

Whenever you attend writing events- critique groups, conferences, writing guild meetings, book signings, etc- take a some paper with you.  Jot down notes throughout the event, and then take the time to talk to the presenter(s) afterward.  Get permission to write up a blog post, and then ask other questions that may have been left unanswered.  You suddenly have not only a write up of the event, but also an exclusive scoop.  Similarly, think of field experts you can interview.  Other writers you know?  Book shop owners?  Reviewers?  Acquisitions librarians? Writing teachers at your local schools or universities?  Come up with as many as you can before you even start to think about feasibility.

You can also look into what other bloggers are writing about.  If someone you follow had an article about diversity that got you thinking, why not write a blog post about your thoughts?  If you read another blog that got tons of great comments and you know people are interested, why not write your own take on the same topic?

Whenever I get a new idea, no matter how stupid, I write it down.  Truly stupid ideas can always be erased later (Alas, Brandon Sanderson probably won’t grant me an interview just because we both write and are Mormon); but I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to delete an idea only to stop, and tweak it, and suddenly have something I can work with.  Never decide an idea is too bad to work the moment you have it.  Sometimes those ideas just have to stew a while until you can find a better angle.  Write everything down, and keep it all in one spot.

Using It-

When it’s time to schedule another quarter, I first skim through the archived schedule to get a good idea for what I’ve already written recently, and to maybe get a sense of any gaps in the topics I’ve covered.  Then I come to the notes section and start stewing.  I cut/paste the workable ideas from the notes section into the new schedule, again with more refined ideas toward the top and less refined toward the bottom.

After I pull out all the good stuff, I am left with a stinking heap of terrible ideas in the notes section.  I do not delete any of them.  A bad idea will sit in my notes section for nine to twelve months before I let it go, sometimes longer.  But I never delete them in batches, and never after a scheduling session.

The notes section is only useful if it is full and active.  Constantly add fresh ideas, constantly tweak old ideas.  Nearly everything I write about on this blog spends some amount of time in the notes section.  It’s like the slush pile for my blog, but I work really hard to make sure it’s all useable eventually.

 

And that’s about it!  The ideas support the schedule supports the drafts, and it all comes together once a week on the blog.  I think blogging makes me a better writer for two reasons: it forces me to constantly come up with new ideas; and it forces me to constantly write new material.  I don’t usually have a schedule for my fiction and it’s easy to let that fall to the wayside.  Blogging ensures that I don’t ever step completely away from writing.

So for those of you who blog, what do you do to keep yourself on track?  What’s your blogging system?