Friday, January 8, 2010

Computer, Pen, Audio Recorder: Shake it up a little when you write

For the first time in years, I didn’t take my laptop with me over the holiday visit to the in-laws’ house across the country. My classes were over and I knew I could sneak onto my husband’s laptop if there was anything urgent to attend to. I packed a few books and two blank journals. I was ready for a holiday.

I’m more practical than superstitious about the tools I use when I write. At readings, participants will often ask published writers about their writing schedule. What kind of pen do they use? A particular paper? Computer program? Desk? Time of day to write? Sometimes they seem desperate to buy the magical tool that will bring them the same muse.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

Writing in different environments with a variety of tools helps to shake things up a little. For example, I usually write on my laptop in my office. If I’m out, I can rely on the small pad and pen that I keep in my purse for notes. I make sure to look back at them often when I’m back at my desk. The re-writing of the notes helps me to understand them differently. I can either take them further or save them for later.

When we visited to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, I slowly and quietly walked around the garden with this notebook. I took notes on the ideas that came to mind and the details that my eye noticed. An exercise like this works particularly well in an environment built for meditation. (Of course, a gaggle of tourists interrupted me while I was writing and asked me to take their picture. One woman said, “You look nice.” I took their picture, but lost a train of thought. See, we can all find excuses for not writing anywhere!)

For most of the visit with my in-laws, I used my larger journal. It is lined and has a binding that allows it to open flat. I like to work both sides at once. When I write a draft a poem on the left side, I rewrite it with edits on the right side after marking up the first draft. To me, there is an unfinished look about a handwritten poem. It urgently demands editing and revising more than a typed version, which can look too polished too early.

I wrote almost every day. I thought about writing and peeked back at the previous day’s notes before heading out. I kept the words in my mind and considered them before returning to edit or write.

So far, I’ve edited two of the poems that I started on that trip. Their current forms don’t resemble the original form. Typing them into the laptop, I see their true spacing on the page and have re-crafted their form a bit. I also polished the vocabulary and order of the words.

I recommend that you use different mediums as a method to stretch your creative mind. You can send yourself text messages, voice mails, emails or write notes on a cocktail napkin. You can even take something you’ve written on the computer and rewrite it by hand. You might learn something as you essentially translate the work into a new form.

The great creative-nonfiction author Joan Didion has a beautiful essay on the subject, On Keeping a Notebook.


amybucklin said...

Nice post, Chloe.

I LOVE Joan Didion and that essay is one of my favorites.

Andrea said...

What a wonderful and inspiring post! You are right -- and it's so easy to come up with excuses for not writing (literally, I do have a favorite pen and am convinced I couldn't possibly write a blessed word worth anything without it -- maybe tomorrow I'll try a different pen!). You make me excited to write! Of course, you also make me excited to visit a Chinese Garden, too!

Chloe Yelena Miller said...

Amy and Andrea,
Thanks so much for reading the blog! Keep writing (and visiting gardens!)