Without Pen and Paper

I recently read that the writing process takes place all the time, not just in front of a computer or with pen in hand. And of course, I wondered if this was true for me. I covet my time with a notebook or at the keyboard, because that is when the ideas get recorded and fleshed out. And I’d gripe about all the time I wanted to spend that way but couldn’t because life — parenting, cooking, etc. — kept getting in the way. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am often writing without any physical tools.

On a recent trip to Southern Utah, a completely new idea came to me while I was hiking. Looking back, I can’t even recall what ignited the spark of this story. Regardless, the idea spun around in my head while we are hiking desert trails and making s’mores and driving across the open, stark country. Today is Paul Theroux’s birthday; he is a well-known travel writer. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that writers should leave home in order to write. I think he was implying that travel allowed writers an escape from the pressures of writing (representation, finances, publication, etc.) but I also think that travel can help spark new ideas, even when a writer isn’t looking for one. And there I was, hiking through slot canyons with my toddler, ruminating on this new idea, feeling the characters come to life, testing out the voice, and realizing all the nuance this story would require.

Rumination is a good word for it. Because I am chewing and rechewing an idea to test its viability (in my eyes, of course). Each time I revisit it, some new twist or realization comes with it, and it becomes increasingly digestible as a story. Okay, enough with the ruminant metaphor.

The point is that knowing that the writing process is ongoing, can occur without a computer, has freed me from the trap of not having enough time. Of course, I’ll never have enough time to write. I always seem to want more, especially as more  and more ideas form in my head. But I can work on them anytime — in the car, on a bike ride, at the grocery store. This flexibility becomes crucial at some point, because then when I come back to the keyboard or pen, the ideas flow freely and I spend considerably less time staring at the pushpin holes scarring the wall. And truthfully, few of my stories have come to me while I was sitting at the computer. Most have come while I was doing something else, forcing me to silently repeat the plot or opening lines so that I wouldn’t forget them before getting to a computer.

Do you write in your head or do you pull from your subconscious while typing away? How does time away from your life — through travel — affect your writing?

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4 thoughts on “Without Pen and Paper

  1. Pingback: Be humble. Be brave. Get it on the page. | thedailycreativewriter

  2. Yes, I totally agree. That is why I let my stories sit…I let them “marinate” and I write the transitions in my subconscious or fix the story in my head…so the next time I sit down I’m fresh and I know how to go forward. Writing isn’t about sitting and putting pen to paper all the time, it’s about getting out and living so that your writing can be richer for the experience.

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