Go to the notebook

I was talking with an author friend on Twitter the other day (we snuck into direct message, sorry tweet-droppers!) and the topic of writer’s block came up.

Not “Oh my god I don’t know what to write” writer’s block, because neither of us really suffer from that.

More like “Oh my god everything I write is so stilted and awful” writer’s block. Maybe we could call it “Quality Writer’s Block,” as in, nothing quality is happening here.

Moleskine notebook

Hello gorgeous notebook.

Now sometimes I’ll just push through it and continue with my scene, regardless of the fact that it’s stilted and awful, because I’m going to edit anyway, and usually it’s in my editing process that the flowers really start to bloom, so to speak. I write my first drafts in a hurry, eager to get the story down on paper, because I know that once my plot is in place I can come back through and pretty everything up to my heart’s desire.

It’s a two-part process: first I build the house with a sound basic structure, and then I put on my interior decorator’s house and I make it gorgeous.

Yes, now I’m a construction worker and an interior decorator as well as a writer and a gardener. Do keep up.

At any rate, my friend told me her secret to curing stilted writing: grab your notebook.

I don’t have a notebook, I said.

Get a notebook, she said. Stop being so obtuse. And get a nice pen while you’re at it. These things matter.

So I had to go to the store and get a gorgeous Moleskine notebook and a nice gel pen with dark black ink that glides onto the page with a very satisfying feeling. Because these things matter.

And I started writing.

And then I started scribbling. That’s how fast the words were coming out of my head. My fingers could scarcely keep up with them.

And that, my wise friend said, is the reason why notebooks work so well: on a computer, a typist hauling along at seventy words per minute the way she was taught in grade school is going to get the words on the page too quickly. If your brain isn’t feeling up to the task, or is feeling sluggish, or you just haven’t had any coffee all day and nothing seems to be firing, then you are going to be discouraged by the pace at which you’re typing, and you’re going to feel like a Big Fat Failure, which will only compound the Quality Writer’s Block. You’ll have words, but they won’t be satisfying.

When I wrote in my notebook that afternoon, I was still producing a structure, but it was a more sound one than the stilted writing I’d been typing earlier that day. It was already prettier. Some of the design elements, you might say, were built right in.

Since then I’ve been writing in my notebook more and more often, and it feels really good. It’s also more portable than my computer; I’m not really comfortable opening my computer on the subway, for example, but I can write in my notebook, making great use of the time I’m underground, far from social media, and really have nothing better to do besides read someone else’s book.

Of course, the transcribing part isn’t the most fun, but it’s also a unique opportunity to spot-edit bits of the first draft, giving little tweaks to the twists your story took while you were away from the entire manuscript, or your notes, or your research.

So I’m definitely a fan of the notebook! Do you ever write your stories in long-hand, or are you die-hard computer users? What are some other methods you use to liven up your brain and improve your writing on days when everything feels stale?