Sunday, November 20, 2011

Where the pen meets the paper

A surprising thing happened to me yesterday.
Sitting in the car with my nine year old, waiting for the eleven year old’s thirty minute guitar lesson to end, I had nothing to do. The nine year old was playing on my iPhone—much better to let him use it, than listen to the ‘I’m bored’ whining. 
I sat there very unused to doing nothing.  If we have a spare moment we are twittering, texting or facebooking, aren’t we?
And then I saw a printout of a bank statement we had just picked up, laying on the floor.  It was blank on the back.  I looked through my glove box and, yes, I had a pen.  So, I started writing a short story. I have never written a story with a pen. I’m a typewriter and now computer girl, buying my first Macintosh 128K in 1987.  My son, hearing the scratchy noise of the pen on the paper, asked, ‘What’s that noise?’
‘That’s the sound of me writing,’ I answered, thinking how quickly the words were flowing.  By the time my other son got in the car twenty minutes later I had scratched down four hundred words and run out of paper.  The eleven year old picked up the paper and said, ‘Who wrote all over my bank statement?’
‘I did,’ I said, ‘It’s the beginning of a story.’
That night, I retyped it into my laptop and gave the now six hundred words to my husband (my wonderful wise first reader). ‘I wrote this with a pen and paper,’ I said proudly, as if it was a Christmas miracle. 
 ‘This is the best thing you’ve ever written,’ he said.  ‘You’ve created a world into which I just slipped without any effort.’
   Now you’re thinking, the pen and paper are the magic.  Well, they're  not.  That’s not the moral of this story.  Although, I must admit that it was quite the revelation to write in the old-fashioned way.   Now I have experienced it, I won’t worry if an idea pops into my head and I don’t have my laptop handy.  I’ll just seize the opportunity with whatever is at hand.   
   What I did find interesting about this story was that it had  floated in my head for a year but I had avoided writing it because there was one detail I couldn’t figure out.  In the story the protagonist travels back in time to meet her relatives only to discover that the relatives—who to her were early settler heroes—could be murderers.  Until I put pen to paper, I didn’t know how she was going to travel back in time.  As the character started describing the scene before her, I suddenly realised she was an historian by career and then the solution to my quandary was suddenly there.  Now, fellow writer,  hold that idea there, I’m going somewhere with this.
   Then this morning I received an email from a friend living in the Netherlands, who enjoys my short stories.  The story I’d sent her was entitled ‘I Hate Emma Carter’ and it was a dark, supernatural moral comment on bullying.  Emma Carter is the new girl at a  school where the protagonist, Angela, and her friends start bullying her.  It ends in a nasty way for Angela with her being literally eaten alive by her hatred.  It did have a good ending—as you know I like my endings—with the personification of the line, ‘eaten alive by hatred’.  My friend commented, ‘You think up such fantastic ideas and analogies, very clever.’  

Now,  I will let you in on a little secret.  I didn’t write it with the ending in mind.  I’m not that clever.  Just like I didn’t start the pen and paper short story knowing how I would get my protagonist back in time.  Heck, I didn’t even know she was a historian until she told me.  When I started ‘Emma Carter’, I just liked the title.  Then as I wrote, I realised the story was going to be about bullying. Then, Emma Carter started to get these horrible black marks on her arms that grew the more she was bullied.  Then, when I got to the last three paragraphs, where Angela and Emma come face to face, I suddenly saw the ending in all its glory.  But, I didn’t start out to write an analogy on hatred.  Again, I repeat, I’m not that clever.
I remember reading somewhere that author, Jack Finney, said of his novel, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, that despite everyone believing the book was an analogy for the threat of communism, the idea hadn’t entered his head.  Of course, when you read the story, it sure sounds like you could insert communism for aliens—I mean the aliens take over your mind and body. But Finney said he had just wanted to write a story about an alien invasion and that too much credit was given to his "clever" analogy. 
Like Finney, I never feel very clever about the twists in my stories because I really am starting to feel like I don’t write them; as if I am just a passenger of the story.  And I’ve touched on this before with "Whose Story Is This Anyway".   More and more it is becoming like a quick change operation, where I slip into another world as quickly as it takes to pick up a pen.  And that to me is puzzling and exciting and a heck of a lot of fun.
On Twitter, I recently spoke to a writer who was feeling, uninspired, and as she put it, “too self-critical”.  It was clear it was causing her grief.  It’s almost a self-fulfilling circle, of feeling uninspired and then not writing which confirms that you can’t do it, which makes you afraid and uninspired. 
  See, I don’t think you have to be inspired to write.  I think after you’ve been at it for awhile, you just have to write the first sentence and trust that the writer in you will know where to go next.  I’m not saying this is how everyone writes but I do think this is how a lot of authors write.  My belief is that as we practice and build our word count we build a bridge to our creative sub-conscious.  The more we cross that bridge, the more we wear a pathway there, until, without thinking, we know exactly where to go in seemingly, the blink of an eye, or the picking up of a pen.
   I believe when you are feeling uninspired, that it may be the best time to just pick up a pen, take a deep breath, and begin something.  Anything.  It takes one step at a time to cross a bridge.  To pass over an uninspiring moment I have found it takes one word at a time, which leads to a sentence, which leads to a paragraph, which leads to a page.  Then you turn around and realise, you’ve crossed over to the other side and the scenery looks just fine.  In fact, you may even say it looks inspiring.

If you have enjoyed this musing, do hop over and register for my very random newsletter. Straightaway you will receive two fantastic short stories FREE. You'll also be the first to know when I have exciting news to share like free books (international) and film ticket giveaways (Australia). Hop over here:


  1. I once wrote the best paragraph, (up until that time), I'd ever written while waiting in line at a job interview. On the back of a deposit slip no less. Since then, I've been hooked.
    Very good post! :D

  2. Thanks Maureen.

    Yes, it is quite exhilarating to write with a pen and realise you can. A few years down the track, I now know the more you write the more you can write.

    Wish I had known that years ago. But then I needed to get serious to learn it.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and post here. I know you have a busy twitter and writing life.

    Oh and everyone,... Maureen has her own insiteful zen corner. Visit it sometime,

    See you on Twitter, girlfriend #partyfriendsforever

  3. Excellent. I have notes floating all over the house. I may not find them all, but at least they got my brain working.

  4. Thank you, Gene Pool Diva-I love that name. I'm glad you got the point. Just write and get yourself going.

    In the end, that story turned out very well and went in a direction I hadn't expected. Its about to wing its way to a comp.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog and leave such a lovely comment.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.