Defining the Problem

Sometimes our writing process can be hindered by the tools we choose–or the tools we’re forced to choose because they’re the ones most in vogue.

I turned eighteen in 1984 so I spent my formative writing years in a pre-digital, pre-mobile device world. Hell, it wasn’t just the formative years. Let’s be generous: good word processing didn’t take hold until the 90s. The iPhone and the iPad are both too young to drive let alone drink. But–and it’s a big but–digital latched on with such strong fingers it’s tough to imagine a world without it.

I’m not going to go over the benefits of writing digitally because I’m cranky and mean.

Let’s focus on the downsides. The obvious one is having a robot correct and suggest content. The robot is often bad at fixing grammar and spelling–mainly because he has a poor appreciation for context. But the worst problem, the truly insidious one, is what I call the It Looks Done So It Is Done Phenomenon (or ILDSIID). When you type onto a simulated page with a nifty font, your work, despite whatever sorry shape it might be in, appears to be ready for public consumption. It causes writers to publish early, and to avoid the pesky step of proofing and copy editing. ILDSIID is responsible for the current state of writing on the Internet.

And, as I’m sure you’ve divined, that state ain’t good.

Breaking Down the Problem

Here was my writing method before ILDSIID became the scourge that it is. I had two spiral notebooks. I wrote my first draft in notebook A. Then I wrote my second draft in notebook B. My third draft went back into notebook A. Usually three drafts was enough to get me to either a typewriter or a proto-digital device. Of course all three of these iterations were done longhand, and that’s a good thing. With longhand you can scratch things out, draw arrows, or draw a cute cartoon bunny when the words won’t come. And, at the risk of sounding spacey, you develop a more spiritual connection with what you’ve done. The duet between your brain and your hand produces an organic result.

When I write on a laptop (or a phone, or a tablet) I’m much more likely to hit “publish” before I’m done. I’m also more likely to reread the piece a couple of hours later and rewrite it (even though it’s already out in the world).

Fixing the Problem?

Okay, so what’s the best methodology for today’s world? Here’re some thoughts…

1) I could go back to my old method of longhand creation. I still like writing on paper with a pen, so I expect this would be a reasonable thing to do. The only part of this approach I know I wouldn’t enjoy would be the transcription. The words must be converted to digital or they’ll never get seen. Transcribing is painful since a) it’s just an inherently tedious undertaking and b) it’s physically awkward. I usually write flat on my back, and there’s no good way to both type and juggle a notebook.

2) I could remain 100% digital but with rules in place. Here are the rules: a) I cannot hit “publish” until all of the other steps have been accomplished. b) I must simulate the longhand method mentioned above. That is, I must make three passes at the material before calling it done. The problem with this method is it doesn’t have the brain/hand symbiosis thing going for it. It does, however, avoid the transcription phase.

Which method will I adopt? I dunno. Maybe I’ll play with both. Maybe there’s a middle way I haven’t thought of.

Writing process is a fiddly thing, often as much science as superstition. Check out another post on the subject…

Writing Process: An Update from the Front