Curious Rat

My Fiction Writing Workflow: Going Am-ish →

Patrick Rhone:

Then, this has me thinking even further, what if one were to create an electronics free zone in their home or office? A desk, a small space, a room, or even a whole floor of the home where electronic technology was not allowed? No smartphones, tablets, tv’s, computers, or radios. Books, pen and paper, board games, and other such items were not only welcome in that space but championed. How would that feel?

Mr. Rhone has the right idea here and it's something I've been mulling over with regard to my home office. I'm not giving up my MacBook Air, nor my iPad. I'm not entirely "going Amish", but I'm fascinated by how older, analog technology affects the mind in creative endeavors.

As I wrote before, I'm finishing up my current novel's manuscript using pen and paper:

1. My brain does one round of self-editing as I carefully choose my words while physically writing them down.

2. Those same words go through another filter while my brain processes what I've already written as I type them into the computer.

Well, writing is painful, mainly on my wrists. But the act of composing a work outside of the computer and then transcribing it into the computer is something I'd still like to pursue. Enter this:

A Smith Corona "Sterling" manual typewriter from the late '50s/early '60s. It's not mine (yet), but it will be as soon as I've saved enough pennies to cover the $295 price tag. A lovely little shop across from the Flatiron in Manhattan repairs and restores old typewriters and this one was perfect to me.

My plan is to use the typewriter to compose a complete first draft of my next book once I've finished writing and editing my current work in progress. I'm not going to switch tactics in the middle of my current manuscript if I happen to get my hands on that beautiful metallic chassis early, especially since most of the work is sitting in Scrivener anyway.

I learned something interesting during my trip to that shop while I tested four different models from four different decades: The beauty of the typewriter is the near impossibility of using all ten fingers the way I do on my computer keyboard. Because a letter must strike the ribbon hard enough to leave an imprint on the paper behind it, one can only use the index and middle fingers on each hand to peck out the words. I'm sure there are some people out there who can use more than that, but not me. Not yet.

A four-finger technique plus the permanence of the ink ribbon (no correction tape here, folks) should give me the same ability to write deliberately and carefully like I do with a pen and paper. And face it, no matter how nice a pen is or how fresh a new Moleskine happens to be, nothing is as satisfying as the click-clack-ding-shunk of a typewriter when you're whipping through the middle of a chapter.

In the meantime - because productivity nerds dig this stuff - here's my current analog/digital hybrid setup:

  1. Moleskine Extra Large Ruled Notebook: It all gets written down in here. The first first draft of any text, prior to getting into Scrivener, gets written down in one of these notebooks. I've heard good things about Field Notes, too, but I like my Moleskines (which I happily and douchily pronounce, "Moll-eh-skeen-uh").

  2. Pilot Hi-Tec C Pen: I was using black extra-fine Sharpie Pens before, but Mr. Rhone tossed one of these Hi-Tec Cs in a package to me and I can't stop using it. It's the pen I'd been looking for all along: An ultra-fine tip, smooth action, and quick-drying ink. I won't use anything else.

  3. Scanner Pro by Readdle: The app is universal, but I really only use it on my iPhone. The concept is simple - you take a picture of a document in portrait or landscape and the app processes that image into a scanned document. I was actually quite surprised at the quality of the images being produced and it's become the best way to back-up my notebook. I take a shot of two pages at a time and upload each scan to both Dropbox and Evernote.

  4. Scrivener: This is the only app I do my fiction writing in on my Mac (until an agent comes knocking on my door and I'm forced to make edits in Word). The prose I hand-write in the Moleskine is transcribed into Scrivener, usually with heavy edits, and saved and backed up to Dropbox. Being able to save all forms of research, like Web pages, images, PDFs, and other collateral makes the process that much easier.

  5. Simplenote: Sometimes, I don't want to take my Mac with me, but I want to be able to migrate text over to my working file. That's where Simplenote comes in because it ties directly in with Scrivener through a special "Sync with Simplenote" menu option. I can select specific working files and/or research documents in Scrivener that then get pushed to Simplenote on my iPad (or iPhone). When I get back to my Mac, I just click the same command again and the changes are automatically added to the project. Until Literature and Latte release Scrivener for iPad, this is the cleanest and simplest way to edit my novel(s) on the go.

Once the typewriter makes its way into my workflow, the use of the notebook will be significantly reduced. I may make notes or jot down ideas when I'm not at home, but the actual text of the first draft will be composed on the Smith Corona.

It's unnecessary for me to completely swear off a newer technology for something older because I've devised a way to incorporate both the computer and the typewriter into a workflow tailored just for me.

And I'm not a hipster. I won't be dragging this thing to Starbucks so all the baristas can hear me clicking and clacking away at a table in the corner. I'm investing in this tiny metal feat of engineering because I know I'm incapable of getting any long-term writing done at my computer. It may take awhile to generate the full book using this hybrid method, but I've learned the only things worse than procrastination are distractions and if I'm going to overcome them, I need to cut them out of my life as much as possible.

PS: The Amazon links above are affiliate links. If you buy the products using those URLs, I get a small kickback, the proceeds of which will be funneled into my "Buy Harry a Typewriter" fund.