Writing longhand with pen and paper

How many of you write your content using pen and paper before actually getting it onto other platforms for publishing?

If you do write using pen and paper, it’s great and would love to hear your thoughts about it.

For most of us, we’d probably write on computers. I write predominantly on computers too. It’s just a much more powerful tool, more convenient, and probably could write much faster.

However, due to the nature of my work, technology burnout is inevitable. For several days during this week, I couldn’t bring myself to use a computer or even my phone to write anything. Yet, there’s a book that need writing.

This was how the decision to reintroduce pen and paper into my writing life came about. I got a lecture pad and a black ballpoint pen. Then I got down to writing.

The experience was definitely painful at first because it’s been a while since I wrote longhand using pen and paper. After finding my handwriting in a total mess and my hand aching badly, I decided to use the pen correctly and even went to google for the right way to hold the pen or pencil for that matter. Then it was time to put it into practice.

I would say there were definitely some good and bad that came out of this process.

For me, it has been therapeutic. The chance to get away from technology is just great for my mental health.

Further more, I could focus better on my writing because there’s no internet involved. No Netflix. No music. No internet browser. If you put your technological devices out of reach, you have no choice but focus on the act of writing and the story you want to tell.

The second advantage come in the form of deliberate writing. Because writing on paper meant it’s nearly impossible to change what you wrote. Unless you want to leave behind lines after lines of strikethroughs or whiteouts, every word you want to put down on paper have to be the right word. This slows down your writing and forces you to think. This has the added advantage of allowing you to identify if there’s loopholes or problems with your content. This is especially helpful for me as a pantser because I won’t run astray with my writing and create plot holes.

The third advantage was that it’s just more natural. You can do whatever you want. Scribble along the margin of the page. Skip lines. Doodle. The freedom meant you could explore your ideas and thoughts in a more natural and faster way rather than having to conform to what the computer and software forces you to do.

The fourth advantage is the permanence of the content. Unless your notebook or lecture pad end up getting soak, caught fire or the pieces of paper blown away by the wind, you can always trust that your content won’t go away. That’s unlike when you are using a computer to write. Machine can fail. Storage devices, including cloud storage, can fail or corrupt your data.

But not everything is all so shiny and great.

The biggest disadvantage with using pen and paper is the speed of writing. Your arms and hands don’t move as fast when you have to draw out the arches and lines associated with latin characters whereas with a computer, a key press means a letter. Because of that, I find it much harder to get into the flow.

The second disadvantage is you can’t edit the content like you could on the computer. Every word that you write on paper is permanently set in stone, so to speak. If you want to change something, you have to strike out what you wrote or use whiteouts. And if you are like me who makes quite a lot of mistakes when writing, you will find that your paper may end up becoming a complete mess and hard to comprehend.

As for portability, it doesn’t concern me. I always bring a backpack when I go to work and I could just shove the lecture pad in it. And when it comes to publishing, well, since I’m writing a novel, it would be much later in the writing process that I have to type them all out. With that, I’d probably do my editing concurrently. So I get to kill two birds with one stone.

Now, I won’t say every writer should write longhand using pen and paper. For most people, it would be very tedious and tiring. So if you prefer to write using your computer, then by all means do that. At the end of the day, the most important thing is getting your content out for your audience to consume and encourage them to come back for more. But if you find that your computer is getting in the way of you doing your work, then maybe it’s time to go old-school.

Diversifying your genre

All of us humans have something in common. We have our own likes and dislikes when it comes to food, drinks, entertainment and even physical activities. And it’s no surprising that we only go for what we like and avoid what we dislike at all cost. After all, who wants to feel uncomfortable?

But as the saying goes, being uncomfortable is what allow us to grow and to be better. When it comes to writing, that means diversifying.

In order to write, it’s necessary for writers to read a lot. That’s how they can learn and grow to become better at their craft. So if a writer prefers only science fiction, like in my case, then he or she would read up anything set in that genre to get inspiration, improve on their character development, world building, etc. Maybe occasionally, he or she would read books or novels in another genre because it managed to catch their attention.

However, this approach may not be as effective as you think to help you grow as a writer. There are only so many variations you can do a particular genre that you will find yourself doing the same thing as those authors when you are finally done with a story.

Let’s take science fiction as an example. There are two main type of science fiction: hard and soft (not a very precise term). Hard science fiction doesn’t play fast and loose with the laws of physics. Every piece of technology or ideas featured must have basis in real life. On the other hand, soft science fiction allows for faster-than-light travel, fantasy elements like super human powers, etc. And under each category, you can have space opera-type, utopia-type science fiction and dystopia-type science fiction. As for enemies, maybe you have either aliens, rogue machines, or maybe another species of humans.

Just imagine what would happen if you stick to reading and writing only science fiction forever…

I have always been writing and reading science fiction throughout my late teens and adulthood. My ideas are really only drawn from science fiction books, video games or shows that I’ve seen. After a while, I realised I’m doing the same shit as the rest are doing. I’m not growing any more. It’s boring as hell.

That’s why I decided to go into horror. There is this goal of mine. To be able to merge science fiction, horror and thriller together to create a compelling story. As some people said, the best ideas are those that intersects multiple themes.

And to be able to do that, in my view, it means that you have reached the height of your writing ability. I also know it will take a lot of hard work.

For a start, you have to consume the right kind of horror. You have to understand what it meant to create horror. There are so many horror movies out there. Video games too. And you can always read Stephen King’s books like The Shining and IT. For me, I love horror because of the way they make me feel. They make me worry for the characters, worry about what’s going to come out and scare me out of my seat, etc.

But when it comes to creating it, it is difficult. I mentioned it once in a previous post. And I remembered what my school English teachers once said, “Horror is very difficult to write. Please don’t do it for your English composition, especially during examination if you want to pass.”

They are right. You see, I’ve been stuck for weeks now when it comes to writing Part 3 of Murderous House as I wasn’t sure how to bring out the suspense and make my readers fear for the characters anymore.

Yet it doesn’t mean that you give up. I’m not giving up just yet as I still try to put in words and form the story paragraph by paragraph. It’s important that we use this kind of situation to learn and grow further. Now, since I don’t know how to bring out the suspense or horror anymore, then I have to go find inspirations and also dig deep into my memories of how horror make me feel and then realise something suitable for the story. I’ve got to read more horror. And I’ve got the game Resident Evil 2 (2019) keeping me at the edge of my seat. I can draw on those feelings I get to write.

When I do get out of this debacle, it would meant that I have learnt something new and could apply it to my next piece of writing. As the skills get developed further, it would allow me as a writer to experiment comfortably and to tell a better story. That means I would be one step closer to my goal of telling a story that merges science fiction, horror and thriller genres.

So if you enjoy writing a story of a specific genre, maybe it’s time you stop for a while and change. Let’s say you enjoy reading and writing romance novels. Maybe it’s time you switch to action stories. Or maybe thriller. Who knows. Maybe you can create an even more compelling romance story based on your diversification.

Useful tool for planning as a pantser

There are two kinds of writers. One is a planner, also known as a plotter, while the other is a pantser.

For the uninitiated, planners or plotters, as the term suggested, don’t start writing until they got all the details about the story they want to tell down in a massive mind map or something. It’s just what they do. Pantser on the other hand doesn’t really plan and simply just write, allowing the story to take them anywhere. They are literally flying by the seat of their pants. Planning for pantsers is just not something they do.

For me, I’m a pantser and really hate planning. The very act feels very unnatural and boring.

But today, I was introduced to something that I thought could be useful as a tool to help pantser. It’s known as a Fishbone diagram or officially known as Ishikawa diagram. From the outset, it look like a really simple tool that doesn’t seem to boring when used.

Now, I know it’s really a tool for product design or quality defect detection. It is also used in certain kind of investigative purpose like incident investigation and resolution. So you may wonder how it can be applied to planning out a piece of writing.

Here’s how I thought it could be used.

Let’s say you are gonna write a piece of fiction that has some kind of conflict or problem to resolve. You can put that conflict or problem at the fish head. Then draw the ribs out from the spine. The purpose of so call bones of the fish is to allow you to identify the causes that ultimately lead to that conflict. You can treat each rib as a category. And some example of the categories can be Characters and Incidents. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it really. The purpose of those ribs is to help you identify the main theme that lead to the conflict or problem. From there, draw horizontal lines out from ribs where you use them to create just enough detail for you to write your story.

And that’s all.

After that, you can refer to the diagram if you do happen to encounter some kind of writer’s block while writing. And since it isn’t so detailed, you get to have the freedom to change your story on the fly while it also ensure you stay somewhat grounded and have some kind of reference material. Lastly, because it’s such a simple diagram, it doesn’t really bore you to death as a pantser.

I also didn’t forget about you planners. You guys can also use this as a complementary tool to whatever they are using now to write.

With that, I hope it’s helpful to you.

Writing about the things you love

As writers, especially if you write non-fiction, it can be difficult to think of a topic to write about.

Let’s take Minimalism as an example.

It’s something that I came across last year as part of my self re-discovery process. It was something that resonate with me, especially the part on paring down your things, bringing into focus the intentionality behind everything you do and making sure they align with what you want out of life. It contributed in bringing me out of depression, made my life more simple and bring the things that I enjoy back into the picture.

And yet, I found it a struggle to write more about it because it’s not something that I’m truly passionate about. The other truth is, I’m better skilled now at keeping in focus what brings me joy. So the process of minimising has become so automatic that I don’t think of it as a struggle. I just couldn’t think of a noteworthy story to share and hopefully help someone else.

But you don’t see me stop there. I still write. What I have learnt is there is always something lurking around in your mind. It can be a simple observation, a sudden realisation, or something you heard. That’s how I manage to squeeze out this article late at night.

And what if you ask, “Bran, there’s really nothing?”

Well, then my response would be, write about something that you love.

And what could that thing be?

In my case, I love Apple and their products (but not a fanatic). I love to play video games (not a fanatic either). I also love technology despite my current misgivings about the software development industry. I care about the environment. Then there’s science, medicine, engineering, human psychology, design, etc. that I like too.

That means I could draw on those topics to write something. And the ideas can come at very weird times. For example, an idea came just when I woke up from a nap. It wasn’t well-formed but the title came up. This was how I got down to write this article titled “The platform doesn’t matter until it does…

And was it a good piece? I think so, at least based on the metrics I’ve got. And I kind of stop caring that much about how good it is when it goes up.

So you have to find the thing you love and give your opinion about it. And don’t care about how well it does. The reason why I read stuff from a particular writer is not because I enjoy everything he or she writes about but rather because I like the writer’s voice. Could be honest, could be humorous or generally very nice/sweet/gentle. Or maybe I just love the writing style.

Moreover, your writing has to be truthful and doesn’t lead someone astray. Do the necessary research before writing.

Lastly, don’t fret so much about what to write. Relax, have a cup of tea, coffee or your favourite beverage, and do something else.

The platform doesn’t matter until it does…

Writers these days are spoiled.

They are spoiled because recent development in technology has given rise to online platforms that allow writers to put their work out for the world to see. From Blogger to WordPress to the more recent Medium, writers are mostly free from having to deal with middleman that served as gatekeepers to the big publication houses.

But those platforms actually don’t matter.

They are just tools, just like the pens and papers, nails and hammers, etc. The platforms don’t dictate your writing. Only you do. As a writer, your main job is to write. To put the ideas that are swimming in your head out into words for others to see. If you aren’t doing that, then no platforms is going to help. Just like the pens and papers that are going to sit in some dark corners if your hands don’t reach for them and use those tools.

And after you are done writing, only then the platforms matter. You have to use them to publish your work out for the world to see.

If you don’t understand the rules of the platform, you writings aren’t going to see the light of the day even if you hit that publish button. The platform’s flawed algorithms are going to decide that your writings aren’t worth anyone’s time and don’t bring them out for the world to see. And algorithms can change depending on the platform owner.

And now, the time you’ve spent on writing that great piece of article, essay or poem is wasted because no one is reading it.

So your role as a writer now has more responsibilities.

You have to go out there and reach out to other writers on the platforms. To comment on their writings, to like their writings, or just to say hi. Only then, you leave a trail of breadcrumbs that hopefully grab someone’s attention and bring them to your creations.

And being on just one platform isn’t enough. Neither is being on many platforms. You have to be on the right kind of platform that has the right kind of writers and readers that will contribute to your growth as a writer.

Now you see, the platform doesn’t matter until it does…