a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Never again

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.

What a mess...

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.

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5 responses

  1. Pingback: Never again | Celebrity news

  2. Yep, I’ve had the same dilemma. But I really don’t have time to sit at the computer and type all day what I’ve written out in long hand. So I’ve trained myself to skip that step and write on my laptop. I kind of miss it, though.

    Like

    January 11, 2010 at 11:41 am

  3. Now that I have a laptop I like writing on the computer. I don’t do most of my writing at home on my desktop because home is just too sterile an environment. And most of the full-sized laptops don’t have good enough battery life for me. And I don’t want to take my top-of-the-line Macbook to a place where it could get stolen, frankly. But most netbooks feature keyboards that are too small and cramped for my stubby fingers. I finally found the ideal solution–an Asus EEE netbook (no kidding, that’s what it’s called–Google it): small, lightweight, 10 hours of battery life (!!) and a nearly-full sized keyboard. And fortunately it runs on old fashioned Windows XP instead of Vista or System 7, so it’s reasonably fast.

    Like

    January 12, 2010 at 2:03 pm

  4. Dana

    Your wife originally offered to transpose your work into a softcopy when you decided to buy the first book – she’s very good at reading awful handwriting. Have you ever read anything a sales person scrawls on a napkin?

    Like

    January 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

    • I don’t want my wife reading my horrid first drafts.

      Like

      January 15, 2010 at 10:33 am

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