The Writing Tools at Hand
“In order to capture those all-too-fleeting visions during the potent time just after ‘the return,’ [from a writing vision] it’s important, I think, that tools at hand be the ones that are truly best shaped for us…for the artists we actually are, as opposed to the artists we may have wanted to be, or felt some kind of outside pressure to be.” – Terri Windling in Inspiration…and Return
Whether our ideas for stories arise out of dreams, daydreams or visions, the inspiration must be transferred via charcoal pencils, brushes and paints, pens and legal pads, or computer keyboards and screens into our chosen medium of expression using, as Terri Windling says, the tools at hand.
The tools have changed over time. My parents have me a portable Olivetti typewriter when I went to college. Later, I had an electric Olivetti. When I wrote the first draft of my contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer in the early 1980s, I used my wife’s Sperry Remington SE100 since it was in better shape than my typewriter. Like the IMB Selectric, it used an interchangeable typeball so that one could choose different type fonts.
I grew up with typewriters, but I like computers much better because the ease of cutting and pasting is perfect for my chaotic approach to writing. Shifting paragraphs around in a typed manuscript involves a lot of retyping for even the smallest of changes. Add a sentence on page one, and you have to retype the entire chapter.
Ultimately, I had to scan the typed pages of The Sun Singer into a computer file before I could work on it again when the first edition was published in 2004. Scanning all those pages made very grateful that “the tools at hand” not only make writing much easier for me, but also mean that those publishers who still want paper copies of manuscripts can get one with no more trouble than my sending the DOC file to a printer.
What Are Your Tools At Hand
As an artist, Terri Windling uses brushes and tubes of paint. Author Pat Conroy writes the first drafts of his novels out in longhand on lined legal pads. Others record many of their thoughts into journals or dictate them using a tape recorder for somebody else to transcribe. We all choose what fits our writing approaches and thinking processes. Since my father was a journalist and a journalism teacher, the natural tool for his first drafts was a typewriter. So, that’s what I chose for everything, even most personal letters back in the snail mail days.
Even if I had a staff to transcribe my work, I would never write the first draft of anything longer than a haiku with a pencil or pen. Tape recording would be worse for me because I couldn’t see what the words looked like on the page. I’m very much a product of journalistic layout, meaning that I format based on how the printed material will look to the reader rather than on the basis of paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting information.
I think, though, that many people like pens and pencils because they’re used to starting out with notebooks of various kinds, especially when writing poetry. Those who use tape records in their day jobs, often find it easy to dictate novels and short stories into a tape recorder while commuting or going for walks. If you write, how do you begin?
How we begin is such a personal thing and so much a part of us that beginning in some other way really stifles the work. Whether it’s brushes, pencils, pens, ancient typewriters, or computers, the tools seem to me to be just as important to the writing process as thinking up our ideas in the first place.
While the ideas come from a realm of visions, the story’s moment of creation often occurs while one is holding a pencil or microphone, or sitting at a keyboard.