Sunday, October 19, 2008

Comparative analysis of writing methods, and the editing thereof

With NaNoWriMo upon us, as well as the winter months when I tend to write anyway for lack of anything better to do, I've been even more obsessed than usual with the contemplation of writing and all the accoutrements thereof. Aren't we all? The equipment of writing, I must confess, is one of the biggest draws for me. Writing tools of all kinds have always held fascination for me. There are, of course, many more than I have outlined below, and many more subsets of the ones I do have listed, but these are just my own scratch thoughts.

Pen and paper:

Pros: Convenience is the biggest one. I can write with pen and paper anywhere, and it's the most portable method. might be tied with the Neo for the most portable, since I don't like writing on pages much smaller than letter size, and the Neo is about that size. But I'm more comfortable with whipping out a legal pad at work to fit in ten minutes or so of writing. I could probably do the same with the Neo at lunch, but then I would be overtly writing. I'm kind of secretive about my life as a fiction writer; the notepad lets me keep my anonymity.

I also like playing with different pen types and different colors of ink. Granted, this may be a con rather than a pro. It can be a real distraction: "I can't possibly write during lunch, because I left the pen with the purple ink at home, and this blue ink is booooring!"

Cons: Not many, actually. I have a hard copy of all I've written, usually in a nice tidy notebook I can reference for years to come. Nothing can happen to that copy unless it gets torched or flooded, and both seem pretty unlikely. One con is that I have about a bazillion stockpiled notebooks and way more ink than I'll ever use, and this causes guilt. Every so often I frantically write by hand for a few weeks just in order to kill off some of that paper that's staring at me reproachfully from several shelves throughout the house.

It's also slower than other methods. I *have* finished handwritten NaNoWriMos, so there's no doubt in my mind that one can produce a great deal of text by hand. But it's not the easiest method. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, except for quantity over quality word races....

The biggest con, true for all straight-to-paper writing methods, is that I can't move words around or stick in a paragraph if I forgot one, at least not without lots of arrows and crossing out of words. This does mean, however, that I can't waste time with moving a sentence, moving it back, taking it out, wishing afterward that I remembered the exact phrase 'cause I need it now, etc., etc. I can always rearrange things when entering them onto the computer.

The typewriter:

Pros: It's the most enjoyable method of writing from a sensory standpoint. I know that sounds really weird, but other lovers of typewriters will understand. It's the sound, the smell, the feel of the keys under your fingers. Writing with a pen has some of the same aspects, of course: I love the feel of a good fountain pen and the way the ink flows, the smell of ballpoint ink and the way the pages turn puffy and curl up as you write on them. But typewriters still have an edge. Typewritten pages are also generally more legible: some pages may be more typo-laden than others, but it's still uniform printed text, unaffected by mood or tiredness like handwriting can be.

Cons: portability! My favorite typewriters are the two standards, and they're not moving from one room to another, let alone to a write-in or coffee house. Another big one for me is the difficulty of keeping typed pages organized. This is as the forefront of my mind right now, because I'm working yet again on a story from a few years ago. Last time I worked on it, I was just getting into the typers, and I wrote up a few chapters on the SM9. I didn't file those pages carefully, and now they're gone. Thanks to fellow typecaster mpclemens, I've started playing with Circa notebooks, and I think I may move toward getting the whole system and keeping a Circa notebook for all of my writing in the future. The nice thing about 'em, as I see it, is that I could mix my various writing methods in one place, so I could type at home, take the Neo or writing paper if I write at work or a coffee house, and still put all the pages in one big book. Then I could move inactive stories to 3-ring binders when I was done, for future reference.

My prose is typically choppier when I write on the typewriter than when I write by hand. Not sure why this is. I have fewer run-on sentences, which is good...but sometimes my writing gets a bit staccato.

One final con: these are machines, and as such, they are capable of breaking down. A well built Olympia is unlikely to suddenly just stop working, but it could happen, and it's hard to find repair people anymore. It isn't a con I've come across with typewriters that were working when I got them, but I still have a slight misgiving about all things mechanical. At least with typewriters, they don't take any of your hard won text with them if they do develop a hitch.

Alphasmart Neo:

Pros: Lots! It's lightweight and portable, does nothing but write (no distractions, except maybe playing with text size and the word count), has a wonderfully fast keyboard and insane battery life. I haven't yet found reason to doubt the 700 hour figure Alphasmart tosses around. It really does last almost forever. It's also incredibly durable. Dropped it off the table? No big'll laugh at such treatment. And it holds something like 200 pages of single-spaced text. Try lugging *that* around with you.

I've tucked mine into my bag to take on trips, lugged it on bicycle outings in case I wanted to stop along the way and get in a few words, dragged it to coffee houses and park benches. It really is a marvelous little invention.

Cons: for one, it's odd. It looks, as so many have said, rather like a Speak and Spell in a dark green business suit. People do ask about it. And when they do, although I do have a tendency to go all fan-girl concerning the thing, I also have to confess that its sole purpose is as a writing machine. And, as I've said, I'm rather secretive about the whole writing hobby thing. Also, the very clear screen with its nice big print makes me feel as though everyone is reading over my shoulder. Actually, I feel that way even when writing in notebooks in public, but this definitely compounds that feeling. I have trouble writing on it in public unless and until I get into my writing enough that I'm not as aware of those around me.

It will also bother my wrists after awhile. Considering how many people have Neos and don't have any such difficulties, my guess is that this is as much my fault as its. I think I tend not to hold my hands in the right position when I'm using it, particularly because the flat, fast keyboard lets me get away with being sloppy. I'm going to do some experimentation in that field and see what happens.

A con that also applies to the computer, and any other digital writing device: when I'm handwriting, I will often find a few words or a phrase in a scrapped portion of writing and revise it for use elsewhere. Because those words are on paper, they're immortalized, even if I didn't use them where I intended. On the Neo or the computer, the delete key wipes them out for good. I can't recycle; and honestly, I do recycle a lot, given the opportunity. Even years later. Kind of makes me sad thinking of all the fine words I've vaporized over the years when doing digital writing.

One final con: because I can write so quickly on the Neo -- almost as fast as I can think -- my writing can end up being a lot more wordy and convoluted than it should be.

The computer:

Pros: well, there are computers everywhere. And it means I don't have to transfer the words in any way. I *can* write on the computer. I've finished two NaNoWriMos on the computer. But I don't think it's the best method *for me*, personally. I get bogged down in adjectives, and in playing with word rearranging, even more so than on the Neo. And I am one of the most easily distracted people ever. I am a fantabulous procrastinator. I can sit down at the computer intending to write, but...hey, I'll just play a game of Bookworm first. Oh, and check the NaNoWriMo Technology forum, and see what's going on in the Typewriter Brigade thread, and anything to do with fountain pens. Hey, speaking of the Typewriter Brigade, I wonder what's up on Strikethru and in the rest of the blogsphere...and the next thing I know, it's past bedtime and I've done no writing.

Cons: OK, so I kind of covered that above. Did I mention I'm easily distracted?

Thoughts on the writing process and editing:
writing by hand and then typing into the computer likely produces my best writing. I think I've done more of it than most other methods, so this may not be a fair test. I will say this: text I have written by hand usually just needs a little rearranging for clarity, sometimes a bit of fill. It tends to be much less wordy (in a good way), and the dialog works better--it's more natural. I also tend to be more engaged with the story if I hand write. I walk around with my own words echoing in my head, thinking about the next sentence or the next scene. I can picture my words on the paper, and think about how I could rephrase that one sentence on rewrite. I'm inside the words in a way that is much harder to accomplish with other methods.

The typewriter may be the most fun. The Neo is the fastest--I can churn out prodigious quantities of text on that little guy. And the computer is the final editor, in any case. Though, speaking of editing, I should add one more thought: one thing I like about the paper methods is that I have a clearer idea of which portions of the story have been edited and which still need polishing. On the computer, unless I change the font color as I go, it's harder to keep track of which pages have been worked up and corrected. If I at least print and mark up the pages, I have a better idea of where I've been and what I haven't yet touched. It's easier to keep hold of the concept of a draft. I think that's very important in producing quality writing. Without that, it's all too tempting to call a shaggy, sloppy mess of words complete, just because they're all kind of in order in one computer file.

NOTE: I typed most of this on the Neo. I'll blame it for the wordiness. ;-)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Oops. knew this was gonna happen, right? You enablers you....

I'm now in the enviable position of being able to directly compare an SG-1 with an SG-3. I'll hold off on details until I've had a bit more time to do so.

After being told that it was pica (I'd told myself I wouldn't jump for it otherwise), I then set myself up a second stumbling block: I wanted to come up with at least half the money in some way that didn't involve dipping into the bank account. And it occurred to me that I've not cashed in any change in the few years I've been here. I have a habit of tossing loose change into the bottom of my pen mugs (I have far too many of those), plus leaving it all over the house. I spent about an hour gathering it all up. Picture a grown woman running frantically through the house checking coat pockets, purses, the counter by the sink in the bathroom, the top of the dryer, underneath the bed, the night stand...everywhere I tend to dump the stuff. It worked, though: I came up with nearly thirty bucks in change, well above the halfway mark.

This also says a great deal about how disorganized I am, but we'll leave that thought alone for the moment.....

I took my pot o' change to the grocery and used the change machine there. They charge a bit for the service, but it's pretty reasonable. I still came out with twenty seven bucks, and I took the rest from my just-for-fun savings account, so I didn't have to touch the main account at all. I feel absolutely virtuous....

Then, having called and set up an appointment, I dawdled around the house nervously for a few hours, waiting for it to be time for me to go look at it. Just look -- no need to buy unless it's absolutely right. Yeah. That's the ticket.

It was sitting on its stand on the sun porch in back of the house, though there's no sun today. It is a very Washington sort of day. Much like the night Bernard arrived, in fact. It was even greener and handsomer in person. Love that chrome trim -- we don't use chrome trim enough these days! But...there were downsides, too. For starters, she measured the typeface wrong. Not pica. It was yet another of those weird Olympia 11 pitch machines. It seems to be the most common size around here, for some reason. And the ribbon didn't work -- not only was the black ink too dried up to make an imprint, but the ribbon was one of those nasty, awful, terrible, disgusting black and white "correcting" ones, with sticky white dust and white flaky chunks dripping off and into the poor typer's innards with every press of the keys. The seller indicated that her husband had had "problems" with the ribbon, but wasn't sure if he just wasn't getting a good print from the existing ribbon or if it was more than that. But oh, it felt nice to type on: light and quick and springy and yet solid and snappy at the same time. Someone on the Yahoo Typewriters group described the SG-1 as "a sensitive battleaxe", and typing on it like "driving a knife through butter." I think I understand.

She was able to tell me a bit about its history, and even had a maintenance record for it, showing that it was purchased new in 1959 (same year as the mojo Hermes 3000 -- they can reminisce together), and had maintenance regularly for the next decade and a half. She said it was the work typewriter of a friend of hers, and when it was replaced in the 70s and sent to surplus, another friend of hers bought it. That friend's husband was an upholsterer, and he made it the quilted cover that was pictured in the Craigslist photo. I'm not as clear on how it passed from friend #2 to her, but she said for the last few years, it only gets used once a year: her husband uses it to address Christmas card envelopes, and that's it. The rest of the time it's been sitting wrapped up in its pretty cover in the sun room. Kind of a sad life for a serious old workhorse of a typewriter. And so, against my better judgement, I brought it (and the stand) home.

Sebastian (named partly just because it fits, for no definable reason, and for a character in the novel I'm hoping he'll finish with me) is now here in the computer room, convenient for typecasting and editing work, and Bernard (who will still be my main typing buddy) sits on the big ugly desk facing the big ugly window overlooking my big ugly yard and the big ugly mini-mart place next door. Someday, hopefully I have a more inspiring vista....

And time will tell how I feel about the new guy. As far as pure typing feel goes, it's unsurpassed. But the ribbon weirdness just has to go.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


It's a good thing I'm broke. But even so... *whimper* *sob*

In spite of Bernard the Magnificent, I wants it. And the stand and cover...see, it'd even have a place to go, though I'm out of desk space!

Yeah...right. Like anyone needs more than one standard. Or more than one typewriter in general, for that matter. But this...this would be going off the deep end. Way off.

But if it's still listed in a few weeks...I dunno if my self control will last. It's my birthday and all. And it's green! And has that lovely old Olympia shape! I don't have any old Olympias...