Tuesday, December 02, 2008


One of the reactions I had to the outcome of the election was to have trouble sitting at my computer. For the past year I sat here following all the twists and turns of the primary, tearing my hair out at the idiocy of the Michigan Democratic Party. And then from the conventions to the election I entered a new level of dependence on my computer, spending waaaay toooo much time anxiously trying to keep the reality of Sarah Palin (aka the puppy skinner) from knocking me flat on my ass. I scoured the internet looking for anything with a glimmer of hope, reading and rereading reports that would (hopefully) assuage my anxiety. Oh sure I did some fiction writing too, but the stiffness in my fingers could not be attibuted primarily to story output, but to a personal/political anxiety problem.

Perhaps it is not that surprising that I feel like I've expended a whole lot of mental energy while sitting in one place and wouldn't mind a wee change of scene.

In the week following the election, I printed out my current draft of my novel and went elsewhere to work on it. I write on a desktop, not a laptop, so this meant going longhand. And before you feel pity for me being the last person on the planet who is not mobile with her technology, I have to tell you something:

I really enjoyed it.

It was fun marking up my draft and making little sloppy stars to show where to insert new text and then writing that text on old spiral bound notebooks with a leaky blue ball point pen. It reminded me of how I used to write when I was less computer dependent, not that I've ever really been computer-free. My mom was a grad student in computer science way back in the '70s so I used to do craft projects with old punch cards and we had computers in our home way before they were being marketed in home electronics stores (anyone care for a game of Pong?). I learned about 6 different word processing programs before I graduated from High School, by which time most of them had started to look and behave similarly. Anyway, I've never written totally longhand or with a typewriter, but I used to do a much more significant portion of my writing with a pen.

My handwriting is worse than ever and I don't even remember how to form most of the cursive alphabet (which the boy critter thinks is hil-ar-i-ous since he's learning cursive in school now) and my hand got a little cramp in it for the first week from holding the pen too tightly, but I feel like I accessed a dormant-ish part of my brain and, considering that I'm writing a novel for kids, it feels like a good thing to go back in one small way to a way I wrote when I was younger.

Reading what I've written from start to finish and not letting myself go back to the computer until I had worked my way through the entire draft and written about 30 more longhand pages to add to it, made my novel seem more whole and real and alive to me than it ever has. Maybe I've reached that crucial word threshold where I feel like I can see the whole book. I'd estimate I'm a little more than a third done, but have the whole book pretty decently organized and some chapters written for each of the 7 major parts of the plot.

So today, having had a good long break from excessive-obsessive computer usage, with my newly fattened draft (though a lot of crappy bits were cut in the edit, the process as a whole was still a significant weight gain), I started a different form of organization: I created a spread sheet that tracks the book scene by scene. I tried this earlier in the draft and just didn't have enough to make it work. But now I'm loving the fact that I can enter in scenes that I know need to be written and haven't written yet--helpfully highlighted in the spreadsheet with yellow--between once sentence summaries of the scenes that are already written. It feels like I'm making a terrific, fun To-Do list. If I wake up dull and blah in the cold December morning and can't get writing, instead of (or in addition to) dosing the hell out of myself with yet another strong cup of Ethopian Natural Sidamo Mighty Good Coffee, I can open the spread sheet and decide which yellow scene I feel like writing that day.

And once I add another 20,000 words or so, I'll be stepping back from the computer and doing another longhand edit.