I tried an experiment when writing this novel. Now I know it was a bad idea—at least for me.
I wrote about two-thirds of it longhand in notebooks. At the time I didn’t have a laptop, just a desk computer. And I hate being chained to a desk when I write. So I decided to write in small (paper) notebooks, in what was then my favorite coffee shop. (It’s my favorite no more; see what happens when you move all the furniture to stupid positions?)
Actually the notebook switch happened earlier, but it was supposed to be temporary. Last year I was leaving for a month-long trip to Europe. Not wanting to not be writing that long, I impulsively bought a small notebook at the airport just before boarding the plane. I thought, Yeah, I’m really going to be in the Italian Mediterranean or Vienna writing. Uh-huh.
But I did. I filled the book, both sides of the page, tiny print. And when I got home, I decided I liked the freedom of just toting a lightweight book wherever I went. So I bought some more notebooks and finished the rest of it that way.
Even as I was doing it, I realized the downside: eventually this is going to have to be in manuscript format, so I’m going to have to reread these sloppy books and transcribe it into a computer file. And my handwriting is such that I sometimes can’t read what I wrote the day before. Even when I can, it’s an ordeal sometimes. Much of the time. Okay, most of the time.
But I continued writing in books because I enjoyed the freedom. I eventually made a pile of five of them. The first third of the novel stayed on the computer in the form of a basic Word file.
Revising said file for draft two was relatively easy. When I got to the books, however, my pace slowed. I found I was just blowing through a lot of it, doing quick rereads, highlighting any stuff I really loved, and just rewriting the rest from scratch. I wouldn’t be doing that if I were reworking a word processing file, but transcribing from the notebooks took forever and frankly, it was both easier and more fun to just rewrite the general gist.
From now on I stick with using the word processor. Especially since I have this cute little netbook now—weighs three pounds, has a ten hour battery! (And yes, I’ve tested it.) Meanwhile, the notebooks sit piled on my desk, with key points I don’t want to lose highlighted in yellow marker. Sometimes it takes so long to decipher my handwriting that I lose the actual flow of the ideas. It’s hard to skim and to search for things on the fly. I feared this might happen.
Sitting there with a few modest notebooks writing a novel that probably won’t break 100,000 words, I marvel at how Tolstoy, Melville, Dickens and those chaps wrote the tomes they did by hand. It’s hard keeping track of changes: one alteration can throw a whole chapter out of whack.
So the notebooks were an interesting experiment, but I think I’m going back to all-word processing for my next creation.