Welcome to Tools of the Trade. In these articles, I’m going to share with you my opinions of the tools and techniques I’ve come across throughout my writing experience, hopefully offering an insight into what works and what doesn’t.
It’s all just a matter of opinions though, so take from it whatever you find useful and bin the rest. Hopefully there will be something along the way that helps improve your writing experience.
Now, without further ado, I thought we’d kick things off with the basics… ye olde pen and paper.
For any writer worth his salt, pen and paper are the bread and butter.
You’re just going to have to believe me on this one, folks. It’s not something I say lightly, it’s taken almost a decade on the writing frontline for me to learn this simple truth.
Settle down, Grandad, I hear you say… although I’m pretty sure my Grandad used chalk and slate, which is somewhat terrifying in itself!
It is, in fairness, something of an old-school thought, that pen and paper is as good as it gets. After all, no one handwrites anymore, do they? We have computers for that kind of thing! A million different word processors all in one box; some free, some not, some good, some bad. They even have built in spelling and grammar checks. Hell, even if you did go for pen and paper, you’d have to type it up eventually! So why not cut out the middle man?
I’ll tell you why. Here are just a few of the reasons why I think the pen and paper are mightier than the… alternative. (Prepare yourselves, as I’m about to get my full geek on!)
1. The Pen
The older I get, the more seasoned a professional (amateur) I become, the more I appreciate a hefty pen. Not just hefty in weight, although that helps, but hefty in importance too.
My current weapon of choice (not that I’ve had chance to test the field, given that good pens can be a tad expensive) is a stainless steel Parker rollerball, which feels chunky in the grip yet perfectly balanced. The refills aren’t too expensive either! When you touch a pen like that to a piece of paper, it feels like you’re carrying out some serious business. And that’s how you want your writing to feel. Serious. Unless you’re writing comedy. But even then, serious!
2. The Journal
Much like the right pen, you can’t beat a fancy writing journal. You know the kind: nice clean pages, beautifully bound in a classy cover. The kind where just looking at it fills you with the need to write? Yeah, one of those. Get one of those.
Of course, ironically, if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel far too guilty about besmirching said journal with your lowly writing, so I usually just keep a more generic writing pad close at hand.
3. The Blank Page
Whatever writing utensils you settle on, you’ll find the blank page provides the biggest inspiration. True, you can get that kick with a word processor too, but computers, tablets and phones come with lots of other distractions you don’t get when it’s just you and the blank page.
And once you start pouring your mind out onto those pages, you’ll be surprised by just how fast it starts to flow, not to mention the strange and wonderful ways in which it takes you.
4. The Time Saved
Lastly, and probably most importantly, it’s the time you save not editing where you’ll feel the true benefit of writing with pen and paper. In word processors, it’s far too easy to become fixated on the last word, or sentence, or paragraph you wrote. You’ll continue playing with it until it’s perfect… which it will never be. And while you’re doing that, the clock keeps ticking and that story you’re trying to tell stays firmly in your head.
On paper though, unless you’re weird and have lots of Tipex to hand, you won’t worry so much about what you just wrote – you’ll plough on regardless, until, one day, your story is told. It won’t be perfect, of course. Far from it. But it will be complete. Then your first edit can come when you type it up, taking it from physical to digital.
My first novel took around eight years to complete (don’t panic, the next one won’t take that long!). Not all of that time was due to writing it on my computer – a full time job, TV, games, and boozy nights out all played their part – but I reckon I would have easily halved that time if I’d discovered the joys of pen and paper while I was working on it.
That said, it isn’t easy. In fact, I’m a full on hypocrite when it comes to this advice. Handwriting is pretty difficult when you’re on the move, and as I get most of my writing done during the daily commute to and from work, I tend to stick with typing it out on my phone.
Rest assured though, whenever I get a prolonged period to carry out some proper writing, I’ll be doing it with pen and paper. If you get chance, I highly recommend doing the same!
6th October 2018