Because of an odd series of circumstances, I am, ironically, writing this, my very first blog post ever, in a coffee shop, on notebook paper, with a pen.
This is how, for a short time after personal computers became readily available and affordable, I insisted was the only way I could write. “Philistines!” I'd cry, in between cranking my Victrola and scrubbing my linen finery in the creek out back. It didn’t take me too long, though, to give writing on the computer the old college try, and I almost immediately discovered that it pretty much rocked. First of all, it’s faster. Right now, as I scribble this down the old fashioned way, my brain is about 4 sentences ahead of what I’m actually writing, plus later I’m going to have to go type the whole thing out anyway. Also in the plus column, it’s a boon being able to move great swaths of text hither and thither, willy-nilly. No more Rube Goldbergian arrows and cross-outs and teensy notes squished into the margins.
I get people who still write on paper, though. There’s that connection to the words and to the ink spilling out onto the page that just isn’t the same on a computer. Also, what with the aforementioned arrows and margin scribblings and whathaveyou, you can see the evolution of your work – where you started, where you’re going. Still, I’ve thrown away my chisel and slab, my chalk and slate: Give me a computer any day.
There is a caveat. In the last several years, a new element has been added to the writing-on-the-computer experience: the readily accessible World Wide Web. The Intertubes. The Webbynet. It’s a dangerous distraction for me as a writer for a very specific reason: T.M.I. Or should I say T.M.P.R.A.I.: Too Much Promise of Readily Available Information.
The novel I’m working on right now is about a Temporal Investigator, Ursula Evermore, who travels back to a manor in rural England, 1928, to solve a murder that was never supposed to take place. An Agatha Christie Cozy meets a Sci-Fi Comedy. I know. Neat, huh?
Naturally, this involves a lot of research. For one, I’m not British. For another, I don’t live, nor have I ever lived in 1928. While outlining my book, I researched the big things upon which the plot was contingent, but while writing, a lot of little stuff has cropped up that I hadn’t anticipated. For instance, did they have envelopes in 1928? Sunglasses? Plywood? (Yes; Yes, but nobody wore them; Yes). The danger, then, is having that big ol’ pile of Internet out there, waiting with the answers. Instant Gratification. (Or Sift-through-the-2000-tons-of-misinformation-and-wikis-out-there-until-you-come-across-the-real-answer-Gratification).
So, for a time, I would pause in my writing in order to jump online and find out, say, in what year the song Stardust was first recorded. (1927). It turns out this is a very efficient way to never get any writing done. It took me a several months of fervently and repeatedly drowning myself in the vast sea of global information before I finally came up with a method of stopping the madness. At first I tried logging out of the Internet while I wrote, but this was no good, as it turns out it’s really, really easy to log back in. Now all I do is highlight the section or word that needs researching in red, take a deep breath, and move on. Sure, sometimes I have to whisper, “Later…later…” to myself in a sultry voice, but for the most part: simple and effective.
Now there are a lot of little red sections in my book. This is good. It gives me something to work on when writing fails me.
Like right now. Ouch, my hand is tired.