Scribbler’s Saga #3 – How I Do Things Pt. 1

Posted: November 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

© 2015 G.N. Jacobs

Inevitably, discussions between writers turn to variations of how I do things. The answer varies with each writer who over time has developed his or her unique style, work habits, work schedule and favorite tools. The tools part of the discussion can be especially fascinating.

Close your eyes when listening to us talk about our tools. You’ll hear a lot of passion about things that essentially more or less work the same way. Write in English with intent towards creating a typed manuscript; write with the dreaded Qwerty keyboard. Inevitable, like night following day.

This came about due to the makers of the first PCs making a conscious decision to keep Qwerty so that the office assistants likely to see the most immediate gains in productivity wouldn’t freak out. It meant that preparatory to attending the expensive combined middle and high school my parents thought I needed, I had to take Typing Class. In addition to learning to nine-finger type, I also learned the value of not putting certain thoughts down on paper to avoid certain parental and familial entanglements. More on this later.

My last official speed trial said 40 WPM. But, does a speed trial really matter with the spell and grammar checks that have become routine with modern word processors? The traditional speed trial deducts for mistakes, but technology that does the 80-percent heavy lifting for proofreading renders the worry about mistakes lessening our speed to nil. Because I am specifically not the business type in a suit yelling at the long-suffering ladies in my office (a psychic predicted this of me for my mother, more on this later), I don’t need to think of my output in terms of WPM, but Words per Writing Day.

When I am really good despite my need to watch more television than is strictly good for me, I pull off 4,000-5,000 Words per Day. A more normal day says I will pull off 1,500-3,000 Words per Day. This is either a chapter a day or two chapters a day. I shoot for more of the former because I do feel the Reaper following me egging me on wanting more speed, more speed before I die. I also have a life coach, whom I have to pay, calling me every morning to make sure that I did my homework the night before.

This love/hate with my chosen life affects my choices for technology. On the one hand, I want the latest most mobile thing that means doing my work in the fastest way that other people (the presently mythical editor helping me get my equally mythical bestselling novels into New York shape) can easily manipulate. So I go for things like Word including the Mobile versions with the best Bluetooth keyboard that fits my hand size. I have used a variety of apps that output Word documents (See Reviews). Then Microsoft finally decided to wipe out many of their competitors with their own Mobile app. Unless the product completely sucks, go with the winner of the monopoly war.

Alternately, I go very primitive, pen and paper or manual typewriter. Usually, this is a sign that I’m still working out my story. I did take it to heart that a writer should work out the concept in the cheapest possible way ($2.99 for the 6” x 9” spiral and $2.50 for the ball point cartridge, or free waste paper run through the Olympia) before committing the words to the big technology. I sometimes need to create about six chapters in this manner before adding future chapters to my To Do List and doing them whenever the noise in my head allows. It breaks down like this: pen and paper for situations where portability is key (most days) and typewriter for when I feel the need to go unplugged in a situation where the noise won’t affect my fellow writers at the coffeehouse.

It took me a long time to realize how to do pen and paper in the most economical way possible. First, I found that disposable pens lack precisely because they are disposable. I liked Sanford Rollerballs and Pilot G-2s for a time, especially the smaller points. But, these pen lines are still the ones where you pay $12 for six and then because you have more than one you still treat them like disposables. Suddenly, going to the office supply superstore to buy the pen box becomes that strange impulse buy. I have a breadbox sized container of all the expensive disposable pens that I cleared out of my desk that I really, really would just like to give away. Any takers?

Saving money with pens meant that I had to learn to treat my pens the way mythological kings and heroes treat their swords: own one expensive pen and metaphorically give it a name. King Arthur had Excalibur. Charlemagne had Joyeuse. Aragorn had Anduril. I have Storyteller, a name that I just made up to complete the metaphor of this paragraph.

Storyteller is silver with black rubber grips and a shape much like a high-velocity rifle bullet (let’s avoid the obvious analysis here). My sister gave me the original as a birthday gift. Two weeks later, while still in the throes of buying expensive disposables, I misplaced the as yet unnamed Storyteller. Behind the sofa cushions I think. I promptly went to Staples to get the replacement because when your non-writing sister gives you a sword, I’m too cowardly to admit I lost it.

Proving the aphorism that you find things for which you stop looking, a week later I found Storyteller. But, at least I have the nearly-identical spare, Wordsmith. It doesn’t have the patina my grimy fingers gave Storyteller and the ballpoint cartridge doesn’t seat exactly the same way. For a good while, these pens rested in my drawer while I did other things and then figuratively speaking I pulled the sword from the stone. But, Storyteller needed a stablemate, Red Doom, my editing pen, a later design from the same company using interchangeable ballpoint cartridges.

So, not counting the disposables, I’m out about $80 to the Cross Pen Company, including replacement ink. When you buy the one and always know where it is, over time you get to amortize the cost into endless utility at the cheapest cost. It took months to break my habit of going into the office supply store and buying disposables, but habits can break from time to time.

My decision about pens affected my decision about clothes in that I buy shorts and long pants with the right kind of pockets so I can clip my pens to a pocket at my left hip. So, I carry four pens everywhere, Storyteller, Red Doom and two of the disposables that are for the person who asks to borrow a pen, one in blue, one in black.

And so this is but a small part of me communicating my fussy persnickety relationship to my words…

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