Trouble With My Tool

I love keeping notebooks. In fact, everything I’ve written is composed in a notebook first: as notes, snatches of dialogue, scene sketches, character names, and sometimes even whole chapters. And my notebook of choice is a Moleskine.

But at a certain point, mostly when I’m ready to get serious (not that my writing in my notebook isn’t serious), to submit myself to the story, I swap over to the keyboard.

But I can’t say I love it. In fact, I actually have a similar sentiment to what the writer Lee Rourke has written: “I find typing annoying, if I’m honest, not the mechanics of it, but the sound. The constant tap-tap-tap-tap on the keyboard reminds me of all the offices I’ve worked in. The sound bores into me, it fills me with an anxiety I could do without. I feel like I’m signing off invoices rather than writing my next novel.”

The tapping away is an annoying sound, but it’s also strangely reassuring, too. There’s this audio sense that something is being done. Although there is also something smarmy about that: Look at me, aren’t I a busy human being, fulfilling my work ethic. I’m a modern man, a functioning blend of the tonic of lethargy and the spirit of hard work.

But thinking about writing with a pen, it’s so secretive, silent, and it arouses so much more than just the pure adrenaline of work: it suggests the silent work, the important work.

I try hard not to have my writing space turn into an office space. The office space is so full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. (And I work in one, so I should know.) The office space requires the absolute illusion of work, but the constant tap-tap-tap on keyboard is in fact the endless repetition of tasks and chores and other mundane pastimes.

For a long time now, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my next novel as longhand in a notebook. But it requires such an enormous amount of willpower as well as time to undertake such a task. And I believe there is an inherent tempo to every book, a kind of internal watch that either ticks really slow or very fast. For the book I’m working on now, it’s a blur of time, a speed-of-light kind of writing experience and so I can’t even comprehend writing it longhand; it has to be done at the keyboard, pounding away like the metronome is set to warp speed. But since I work in fits and starts (you could say I work like the grasshopper, not like the ant), instead of the prolonged spells, I still have to time to be scrupulous about what I’ve written, thoughtful and discerning.

Still, there’s an iconoclast in me who’d love to unplug the computer, pick up a pen, and not stop till I’ve filled my notebook with a novel.

“What makes a story? Well, you have to have movement, right? Some people call it plot. Plot is movement that is extremely deliberate. So I would say that I’m for movement, but I’m not for terribly deliberate movement. And at some point, you come to the end of what you have to say. There’s pleasure, also, and play. Something different makes every story. Sometimes you like tying up the knot. Sometimes you like to leave it wide open, for people to imagine and to do what they want with it.” Grace Paley


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