Perhaps my only highlight of middle school was the free time I had to write the dozens of stories that swam through my head.
I had been inspired by a close friend who had been penning a dystopian sci-fi. I’d see him labor over his notebook in study halls, in our writing for publication course, in between classes, even at lunch. Our teachers must have thought him to be a diligent student as his 3-subject binder was quite worn and full, though when I saw him in class writing feverishly only I understood where his attention was.
I remember recycling an unused notebook (for computer science, I believe), labeled as such which served as ample camouflaged while I snuck in time to pen my first novel into it. Back then I had been writing my first superhero novel, and though it had the plot, themes, and rough edges of a teenage novelist I found the project to be an edifying exercise. In total, it took 6 months to pen and another 3-4 to transcribe. Truthfully, transcribing was the hard part as back then my penmanship was so abysmal–and remains so to this day–though I felt confident that I captured most of its original meaning if not improved upon it when typing it out on our home desktop computer.
Years later, my family bought a new computer, computer lab time at school became more available, and best of all I was gifted my very own 3.5 inch floppy disc dedicated to all my creative pursuits. I still had a notebook to jot down ideas, though I no longer saw the purpose of keeping a running story in a notebook. It seemed a waste of time to have to re-write the entire handwritten story to digital form, especially with the more opportunities I had to be on a keyboard and save my work as I went. Admittedly, some of that rang only partially true as over the years I’ve found that floppies could go missing and computers could crash. But as I grew so did my tactics. I got my own laptop and memory stick (one that I could hang around my neck and keep on my person wherever I went easily). But again, laptops sometimes go into critical failure and at times I felt it tedious to have to always save my work onto a moving memory. But that’s why we have cloud storage now, right?
I think there was one final component that led me to forgo completely the pen-to-paper process for typing out stories on a computer, and that is my word per minute count. My classmates and I were thankfully trained from an early age in elementary school to practice our skills with a keyboard. This started in 5th grade I believe, and by 7th grade, in middle school, I believe I had the highest word per minute count in my grade (somewhere from 120-150 if I remember correctly, though truthfully I think I’m being modest). Yes, I had the notebook in 7th grade and penned three different stories in this format, but pragmatically I knew the keyboard could keep up better with my thoughts than my own hand could (again, I still could be a doctor today with my penmanship).
All that to say, in this year of 2022, decades later, I’ve reconnected with pen-to-paper writing. We welcomed home our son this year, our second addition to the family, and immediately my early morning writing time became compromised with our son’s fluctuating sleep schedule and my own personal fatigue from the adjustment. While the newborn and infant stages come with so many joys and rich opportunities to grow as a father and husband it still has thrown my creative schedule into a funk. Somewhere around when our son turned two, I plucked an unused notebook from our office, opened up a fresh page, and started a brand-new project.
This new project is something I’ve had years of desiring to write which has meant years of plotting and world-building. The process began with no longer trusting this background process with ideas stored in a clumsy cloud or in a laptop that took effort to open and focus to operate. It began with flipping open the new page, jotting those ideas down, and resolving to just start writing. It’s helped that the new story is a simple one with few characters and a kid-friendly plot. It’s been remarkably easy to pick up where I leave off, take 5-15 minutes to myself here and there when our daughter is playing with our son or when he is napping and my daughter is pursuing her own creative ventures. That being said, decades later, my penmanship has not improved, and the few times that I’ve had to go back and read for continuity it has sometimes provided to be a challenge to read my own handwriting.
That being said, returning to pen and paper writing has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Doing so has fulfilled some nostalgia of my earliest days of penning novels and reminded me of the ease and opportunity to retreat and create. While I’m typing this blog without having to yet visit the transcription process, I can still say confidently that no matter the time or painstaking labor it will take to move my written piece into digital format, it has proven to still be an edifying exercise. Better for us writers to flex our creative muscles of plot, design, and character development in a medium that we may one day discard rather than to merely wait for the next opportunity to have time and space for ourselves to write.
Lastly, what I have found about this process–which is at least true for me–is that the process affords writing to not be bogged down so easily with complicated sentence structure or overstressed synonyms. What’s been true to my time in front of a screen has been sometimes overthinking a sentence, a paragraph, or even a plot point. No doubt my pen-to-paper novel has many flaws and even one large plot point I’ll have to go back and totally rewrite, but getting the content on paper ironically seems easier and more expedient than typing as the editor takes a far back seat in this process while the artist is free to make a mess of the space.
So for those of you who find yourselves without the time or space to write, or who have merely trouble sitting down in front of a dedicated computer or laptop to pen something out, go to your local store, pick up a notebook of any size, and keep it around. Even if it’s in the other room, it takes no time to boot up and is far more durable than any piece of technology. Again, perhaps you’re like me and will find this medium to provide you with a richer writing experience, one that isn’t bogged down by internet tabs that distract us and get us to overthink our idea.
Buy a notebook regardless. Life affords us so many times craft, but we find excuses for ourselves not to seize the opportunity.