Last year I did the #amwritingchallenge, a brilliant projected started by Jaime Lee Mann encouraging writers to post a series of pictures on instagram over the course of the month of June, and I realised that of all the posts relating to current manuscript (Day 2), my photo was one of few that was not of a computer screen.
It’s somewhat old fashioned I suppose, but almost everything I write begins longhand. There’s something about the paper and the pen, the curve of each letter. It lets me think, opens that inner door to the imagination. Whenever I’m starting in on a new project I know (now) that I will need to write by hand first of all. That doesn’t mean the whole way through of course, although that will happen on occasion as well. Every book is different. Never say never.
But I spend so much time working on computers. I type very quickly, sometimes more quickly than I can think. And going the longer, slower road can be very enlightening.
The process, such as it is, goes like this.
Find the right notebook. Writing longhand is a tactile experience for me and engages all the senses. I have been seen on more than one occasion pawing through notebooks in shops, feeling the pages. Yes, it’s embarrassing (thankfully I have now found a brand which isn’t too expensive and suits me so there are less incidents!). I like A4 spiral bound lined notebooks. They don’t have to be fancy, but the paper has to feel right. (I know, I know!)
Find the right pen. I love my fountain pen. But I’ve been told it makes a scratchy noise if I’m writing in bed late at night. Plus I am bad at remembering to buy ink cartridges. So I also use a Uniball Eye. I prefer black ink. The pen has to feel right, something about the way the ink flows, the weight of it in my hand, the way I hold it. And the ink has to smell right too. Fragranced ink can go and jump. I’ll have none of that around here. Plain, black ink. Blue if there’s no other option. Simple.
Paper, pen, ink…
Then I write. It’s as simple as that. I write, and I doodle in the margins and I scribble things out and I squeeze things in. Writing longhand is very freeing for me. I think, when faced with a white page on a screen I freeze a little. When you start to type words, they look so formal and fixed, as if they can no longer be changed. But on a notebook, with a pen, there isn’t that sense of finality.
My first interactions with language, with creating words, happened with a pencil and paper, then with a pen. Computers were a long way off. (Filling secret, special rooms far far away in fact). Future writers may well have the same relationship with the screen that I have with the pen and paper.
Often it doesn’t take long before I start typing as well. I build books scene by scene. Sometimes in strict narrative order, sometimes out of order. It depends on the story. I type up a scene I have written, editing as I go so my first draft is often really my second. Sometimes my brain leaps onwards and I continue to type after the handwritten scene is completed. Sometimes my brain wants to go back to longhand, to write and draw out those words, to dawdle and doodle in the margins and allow my brain the time and the patience to write.
We live in a very fast world. There is something meditative about writing longhand, about reaching back and remembering why we first wrote this way. Because the story comes, the magic works, the pen whispers on the paper, curving its way around letters, forming words and it’s lovely to take the time to enjoy that.
Oh, and the tea helps. Naturally.
(c) Ruth Frances Long
Ruth’s books A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills are in bookshops now or click the links to pick up your copy online.
About A Crack in Everything (Book 1 in the Izzy Gregory series)
Chasing a thief, Izzy Gregory takes a wrong turn down a Dublin alley and finds the ashes of a fallen angel splashed across the dirty bricks like graffiti. She stumbles into Dubh Linn, the shadowy world inhabited by the Sidhe, where angels and demons watch over the affairs of mortals, and Izzy becomes a pawn in their deadly game. Her only chance of survival lies in the hands of Jinx, the Sidhe warrior sent to capture her for his sadistic mistress, Holly. Izzy is something altogether new to him, turning his world upside down.
A thrilling, thought-provoking journey to the magic that lies just beside reality.
About A Hollow in the Hills
Something is stirring beneath Dubh Linn.
When an ancient and forbidden power is unleashed, Izzy, who is still coming to terms with her newfound powers, must prevent a war from engulfing Dublin and the fae realm of Dubh Linn. But by refusing to sacrifice Jinx – fae warrior and her ‘not-really-ex’ – Izzy sets in motion a chain of events which will see them hunted across the city and into the hills where she’ll face the greatest challenge of all.
In the deepest and darkest Hollow, an angel of death is waiting … and the price he asks for his help might be too high …