By Tonianne Bellomo
I wanted to build a universe.
I wanted to write stories like the ones that made me forget reality. I wanted to build worlds from letters. I wanted to draw in the margins and give readers a glimpse of the realms that rested behind my eyes.
I can’t do that on a computer, at least not at first. There’s no highlighting, scribbling, pasting, scratching out, ripping. There are just clean white backgrounds, perfect font, and the tapping of keys.
That is not world-building; that is a job.
The novel I’m editing is rough, probably in every sense of the word. It sometimes gets so dark that I forget which way is the way home, and I find myself suffocating.
It makes it hard to write.
The computer makes it worse. I feel like I’m cheating. My characters hate it, too. It’s like they refuse to be slighted, refuse to be clinically typed in perfect Times New Roman onto my computer rather than scrawled in a bastardization of Catholic school cursive. They’ll just stand at my mind’s door, arms crossed, heads turned away like I’ve insulted their mothers.
So, I give the characters what they want.
I give them paper homes.
The characters grow in those spaces, whether I realize they’re characters or not. They are lines from a poem, a feeling evoked from a song, lyrics, ticket stubs, a Polaroid. The characters are a lot of things that would have never come together if I didn’t handwrite first.
Handwriting makes it feel like art.
I know by definition writing is an art. I just never feel like I’m making art. Handwriting my stories, though, and putting in all those extras makes me feel like I’m creating worlds for them, like the little girl with a dollhouse that she’s putting together.
Tristan, the protagonist of my novel, even has a journal that is featured on his blog. It originally just started out as a Tumblr blog, but I couldn’t “feel” him in that blue screen. I went out, bought a Moleskin (because he would totally have one) and started drawing and writing in his voice.
It made me feel like I could breathe again. Like the darkness wasn’t so suffocating because I could understand his thought process — I could follow his thoughts home.
He’s real now. The moment I handwrote his first entry, he became real. The fourth wall broke, and he fell into reality. I can see him sitting in O Café sipping his Americano while sketching in his journal or pasting photos of Richey Edwards or Ian McCulloch onto the pages.
Handwriting and plotting my stories in my journal — it all helps me make worlds. It helps me create the universes that I want my readers to inhabit. And it helps me remember that before all the workshops and degrees and frustrations, there was just me, my journal, and the universes I wanted to build.
Tonianne Bellomo is a graduate of The New School MFA program and an adjunct lecturer at Baruch College where she teaches writing. She is currently editing a novel and blogging from her protagonist's POV at http://wax-and-wings.tumblr.com.