Stephen King recently sat down with Jessica Lahey of The Atlantic Monthly to talk about teaching writing. King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of my favorite books on writing ever written. I love it for its accessibility, its wisdom, its lucidity, and its utter lack of pretension.
Lahey gained a new respect for the book when she used it to unlock her students’ resistance while teaching writing in a residential drug and rehab program for teens.
At one point, Lahey asks King about the relevance of teaching grammar in classrooms. “Why bother to name the parts?” she asks, if someone “either absorbs the principles of one’s native language in conversation and in reading or one does not.” Here is King’s response:
When we name the parts, we take away the mystery and turn writing into a problem that can be solved. I used to tell them that if you could put together a model car or assemble a piece of furniture from directions, you could write a sentence. Reading is the key, though. A kid who grows up hearing “It don’t matter to me” can only learn doesn’t if he/she reads it over and over again.
I like the idea of demystifying writing, of naming the parts in order to make them less lofty and unattainable. The key here, though, is that we learn what we hear, and if we hear the wrong thing from an early age, we will have to retrain ourselves.
Okay, so we all know now that being a writer is about actually sitting down and writing. There’s simply no substitute for doing the hard work. If you’ve been following this blog, you know how much I love new storytelling technologies—-but you also know how passionately I feel about the workaday aspect of writing.
As Stephen King puts it in his book On Writing, “butt in the chair.”
As a novelist, I do a lot of writing on my computer, but I also do a lot of writing by hand. I love both methods equally, and whether I’m writing by hand or by keyboard depends on where I am and what mood I’m in. When I was writing The Year of Fog, I filled several notebooks while sitting in my Jeep in the parking lot of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. I also write by hand when traveling. In my home office, I use a healthy mix of the two.
The problem with handwriting, however, has been that what I write on the page often never makes it onto my computer. So I’ll compose whole scenes that then simply never make it into the novel-in-progress file on my computer, which means they never make it into my book. I’ve tried writing by hand on my iPad, and once purchased a very expensive stylus for just that purpose, but soon discovered that I’m just not cut out for writing on the screen.
Lo and behold, along comes my dream product, a pen that looks and feels and acts like a pen, with actual ink that you use to write on actual paper, with one huge improvement over regular pen and paper. Livescribe 3 captures what you’re writing in real time, via the Livescribe app, automatically syncing to your IOS device. If you’re an iPad user (check), a writer (check), and someone who’s tired of losing your work (check), Livescribe 3 is for you.
The beauty is in the details:
Livescribe has teamed up with Moleskine to make this highly efficient process even more beautiful. Write in your Livescribe Moleskine notebook (which has the feel and classic beauty of your old Moleskins), and watch your words magically appear on your iPad screen. Better yet, everything you write can be synced automatically to Evernote, so that your handwriting can be searched in the same way you would search typed text. Amazing, right?
If you prefer old-school spiral bound notebooks, Livescribe has those too. And if you’d rather not pay for special paper, you can always print out the Livescribe paper on your home printer and gather it into a binder.
Who is the ideal user?
The beauty of Livescribe is that all of your handwritten pages can be added to Evernote and other platforms along with your typed pages. You can search and re-order to your heart’s content. And you can share your written pages with, say, your writing group. For me, this also means that my husband–who is my first reader and first editor on everything I write–can see my work in its most raw stage and provide comments. And because I blog frequently about writing and teach online writing classes, I love that I could use Livescribe 3 to show my readers and students how I build a story from the ground up. Really, the possibilities are endless.
Of course, an even more obvious use for the Livescribe is for students. If they’d had this when I was in college, I’m sure my notes would have been far more useful! That’s because Livescribe 3 records audio while you’re writing. So you can write your notes, but have a backup of exactly what your professor is saying.
At $149, Livescribe 3 will set you back more than your average fountain pen. But if it means the capability of keeping track of your handwritten work with the same efficiency that you keep track of your typed work, I’d say it’s worth it.
A wonderful glimpse inside the mind of a stunningly prolific and intensely imaginative writer. Recommended for Bradbury fans, of course, but also for anyone interested in pursuing the writing life. Great inspiration for writers at any stage in their career who are feeling unproductive or uninspired. Read with Bradbury Unbound to get a full picture of the writer’s habits and the challenges and successes of his very long writing life.
Like so many other writers, Cather preferred working in the morning when she was “fresh” and unencumbered by the day’s concerns. I always prefer working in the morning, too, although my intentions are far better than my practice. For me, the key is getting up early enough to give myself at least an hour before I switch to “mom” mode, which means getting up not a minute later than 5:00. I go to bed most nights believing I will be out of bed by 5:00 the next morning, and then I roll out of bed closer to 6:30 or 7:00, chastising myself and promising to do better tomorrow.
Today was one of those rare days when I happened to live up to my nightly vow. By 5:05 I was at my desk with my coffee, writing. By 6:30, I had written three and a half pages. Those three and a half pages felt more like 20; I felt triumphant, as if I had accomplished a great deal.
And it only took one and a half hours! Cather is on to something here. If you work in short spurts–two hours instead of five–every minute of it is more likely to feel like an adventure. If you can’t afford two hours, try one. If you can’t afford an hour, try thirty minutes. University of Nebraska Press has published a whole book of Cather’s insightful advice on writing, with the utterly unpretentious and spot-on title, Willa Cather on Writing.
Alice Munro, by the way, is a writer who accomplished much of her early success while juggling writing with motherhood. First, she wrote while her youngest child napped, and later, she wrote while her children were at school. Toni Morrison’s time was so limited as a single mother with a nine-to-five job that the time she did manage to find at the typewriter was rich with possibility. “By the time I get to the paper something’s there,” she said. “I can produce.”
No matter when you are able to make it to your writing desk, or your notebook, try to approach it as an adventure, not a chore. Merely having the privilege of an hour to write can be an adventure in itself.
This week, when you sit down to write, attempt to do it with a sense of enthusiasm for the hour that you have, the hour that will never repeat itself, this spectacular, beautiful, unique hour in which anything can happen.