Curious Affectation

Okay, somebody explain why in the heck I do this.

It’s something I’ve been conscious of for years, and it never seemed to bother me until a week or so ago. That’s when I got an email that inspired this recent post. At one point, the correspondent said,

I go out and buy notebooks and pens and write short spurts here and there.

To which I replied, “Yeah, I do that, too.”

And I do. Especially if I’m not working on a novel. An old idea bubbles up, or a couple of notions collide with each other to become an idea, and all of a sudden my brain is saying, This is it… workable novel idea.

What happens next is that I wander into the nearest grocery store, drug store or office supply outlet and buy a notebook or a notepad or a ream of blank paper. And if I don’t have a Pilot G-2 handy, I buy at least one of those, too.

Then I sit down and start writing the book, by hand, because dang it, I really can’t help myself.

I’ve started a great many books this way. Some of them have even been finished – The Mushroom Shift, for example. I’ve got about 20 handwritten pages of the UFO novel that I hope to pick up and start Officially Writing soon. I’ve got almost 200 pages of another novel spread over three or four notebooks that I need to pick up and finish at some point in the future. And I’ve got a ton of one, two, three, four, five page starts laying here and there, ideas begging to be fleshed out with another 500 pages of text.

Since getting the email the other day, I was amused to find out that I wasn’t the only one who did that kind of thing, reading into his words the fact that he indeed underwent the same tortured process I went through.

But I started to become unhappy about it. Because I still don’t know why I do this.

No, it’s not a passing thing. After lunch with my wife and mother-in-law this afternoon, I found myself in a Walgreen’s in that aisle because two notions collided – one of which was a bit I had written one paragraph of on another sheet of paper – and it wanted to come out.

So I weighed my options. I’ve been writing on a pastel green printer paper of late – it’s easy on the eyes. But Walgreen’s only has white. I pass over the spiral bounds – got too many of them at home. Ditto the yellow pads. Never was much for off-size stuff, either, although I used to draw in Steno notebooks.

Ah, there it was! A 120 sheet pack of looseleaf paper, college ruled, on sale for 97 cents. And I have plenty of three-ring binders at home! Huzzah! The planets have aligned!

But why do I do this? Not just sometimes. A lot. It’s like part of my personality or something. A behavior pattern.

I’ve tried to do some quick self-psychoanalysis since this started bugging me and have come up with a handful of maybes on why I behave this way:

Idea validation. Maybe if the idea has reached the point where I feel compelled to start writing it, then it’s proven its own merit and this is the way it preserves itself. But if this is the case, why don’t I just fire up the word processor and have at it for a few pages? Why do I have to go and buy paper?

Connecting with the idea. Writing by hand gives writers a much more intimate writing experience. All of the VBS plays to this point have been done by hand before typing up the working copy. But couldn’t I connect just as well with my fingers on a keyboard?

An old habit that refuses to die. Makes sense, since I was writing by hand before I was typing. But I wrote so much that my dad got me a typewriter when I was in third grade. So if this is common to writers, what happens to writers who are kids now and have grown up typing? Will they have to buy a new computer whenever they get an idea for a new book? Very funny.

Embedding the idea in the imagination. Since I tend not to write notions and ideas down, this is my punishment for not having file cabinets full of napkins, grocery store receipts and deposit slips filled with notes. It’s always been my contention that if an idea is good enough, you won’t lose it. It’ll keep coming back to you.

A sign of some kind of mental disorder – ADD, OCD, some other alphabet soup thing. This may be closer to the truth than anything else. What are writers but bundles of nerves, held in check by the ability to create? Am I really this much of a sad sack?

A sign I need to be working on The Next Novel. This is probably it. I need to be writing and if I don’t have some kind of outlet, I get these weird, random outlets. Sounds as good as anything else I’ve advanced.

I don’t know. Is it just me and that guy who wrote to me, or do some of you other creative types go through this? Or have your imaginations concocted different types of tortures and torments?

I guess the bottom line is this: I know I am creative, and while I have accepted that and can live with it, I am still hopelessly at its mercy. And a happy Monday to you, too.

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2 responses

  1. That is a habit of a lot of successful people I follow actually. One of them carries a legal pad where ever he goes. He never even re-reads them. They just pile up in a box, and he tosses them out after a year or so. Year after year.

    How about getting some fans to test your new stuff?

  2. I do take notes on small, lined pads. However, I love working on a computer. I guess it’s because I used to type term papers on a typewriter and had to use white out all the time. I love being able to correct and rearrange paragraphs at the touch of a button. To me, using a pencil to write a novel is like rubbing two sticks together to start a fire.

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