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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: Draft

This is Where I Battle My Writing Demons • Sheila Lamb

Brett Rawson

BY SHEILA LAMB

The first draft always begins on paper with ink. Sometimes, the first handwritten words are a line, a sentence, a phrase. Sometimes, a scene. Usually, these words will not be in the final story. But they mark the magical moment where the story began.

I find ideas flow better from paper to pen. When I handwrite, I write fast. Inspiration can be elusive and I want to get the words on paper without disruption. There is a smooth connection from pen to hand, something that, for me, pencils don’t give. Computers certainly don’t. The pen is, literally, a fluid implement. I favor gel pens (a Pilot G-2). It’s part of the whole flow of words, from thought to paper. I’ll use pencils in a pinch, but graphite tends to smudge and fade. There’s also a rub as the pencil hits the page, a dryness, a physical sensation, that gives me the shivers – like fingernails on the chalkboard. Occasionally, there is the issue of broken lead and the search for a pencil sharpener. Pencils, despite their simplicity, have too many complications and they are not my utensil of choice.

Ballpoint pens are another option. They are easy to find, ten to a pack. However, they are my second choice. Words don’t glide from a ballpoint as they do from a gel pen. Like the pencil, the ballpoint ink to paper has a palpable feel that is off-putting to me. Ballpoint ink can be thick and gloopy, and sometimes leaves thick globules at the end of sentences. Although ballpoints are certainly preferable to computer keyboards, they don’t have the smoothness of a gel pen.

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Writing by hand is second nature to me. Perhaps because I’ve handwritten stories since elementary school, when they gave us green penmanship paper with fat, chunky pencils. I’ve kept paper and pen journals since high school. It’s easier for me to reach for pen and paper than trudge to the laptop, wait for it to start, find the folder, open the file, and pray the program doesn’t freeze or mysteriously return me to last week’s temp file draft. All those layers of technology slow the inspiration, that spark of a new story or pivot within a plot.

For short stories, I write the entire first draft — or what I think is the entire draft at the time — on paper. Most of it begins in my bedside journals. My recent story, “Hunger, Not Tame,” began after a camping trip to Assateague. I journaled about our trip and the feral horses. I was infuriated with the tourists, who petted and fed potato chips to the horses on the beach. 

That incident was the scene that stuck, and the one that gave way to story. I began to play on paper, shifting from my journal to a spiral notebook — last-day-of-school perks of the teaching trade — expanding the scene into a story, in longhand. I witnessed Kate, the main character, grow from this exploration: a park employee who confronted the people tossing Doritos at the horses. I write until I come to what feels like a stopping point — the end of a scene or section of dialogue. If I’m lucky, I’ll discover the final sentence here. Something in the shape of the words lets me know that this is it — this phrase where the story will end.

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In writing by hand, I’ve discovered that this is where I battle my writing demons. For me, past defines the present, so as a writer, I struggle with back-story. Actually, I revel in it. I spend a lot of time figuring out how my character made her way to the start of the story. I tend to develop psychology before I develop plot. Why is the character there? What makes her do what she is doing? Writing those back-story details by hand is necessary for me to create the character. I’m fine knowing many of those initial, raw words won’t make it into the next draft. The process paints a picture, so I know who I’m dealing with as I place her in situations she’d rather not be in. The potato-chip tourists barely made it into the final draft. Even though they were the beginning, in the end, they were a brief, two-sentence presence. They were simply a starting point for Kate to explain why she was at Assateague and what motivated her work. The longhand process, I’ve discovered, is a sort of third-person, in-character, journaling.

*

My conflicts with electronic writing are three fold: First, my creative energy, that burst that inspires a new story, vanishes when I start writing on an electric document. All of the green and red warnings that highlight misspellings and incorrect punctuation are like blaring sirens, taking me out of the story. Instead of writing, I go back and correct. That delete key is dangerous. It can very quickly disappear a phrase that might not fit in that sentence, but a phrase I may want to use later. Second, as I develop and revise the story, I prefer the kinesthetic, hands-on process of physically writing (educational researchers are looking at the correlations between student success and handwriting but I’ll save that tangent for another time). Instead of scrolling through track changes, highlights, and text colors, I make side notes on paper with the pen, underline an idea I want to develop, remind myself to go back and find a synonym, with a circle and the abbreviation: syn. The handwritten notes make the ideas and revisions stick. Finally, I’m incredibly distracted by the Internet. Turn off the Wi-Fi, a lot of people say. Yet the Internet is a necessary evil because many stories require research. I researched the feral — not wild — horses of Assateague, their history, and the park regulations, but the pull of social media is powerful. It is so easy to go from the National Park Service site to Facebook, to Twitter, and pass another hour without actually finding anything of substance, just scrolling from one site to the next.

Eventually, the story needs to go electronic. For me, this is where revision takes place. I find digital typing is great for the editing phase. I transcribe the paper page word for word into Scrivener. Then, I’ll take a look at chronology, scenes, and plot development. I love the way I can add a new text page or section, and stay organized as I work. With this, I’m able to move scenes around and bridge the story together. In “Hunger, Not Tame,” I played a lot with Kate’s past and how much to include in the story, the back-story burden. It took several revisions to refine the central scene, where her past and present collide.

But after the digital jump, I’m back to paper and pen. I print out the revised draft and I read through the story on paper. I edit, make notes, read it aloud. I mark it up. There, it develops shape and structure. Those changes are made again on the typed draft. Then, there is another printed version for a final read-through. Last minute changes are made, with pen on the paper, and corrected again on the laptop. 

Handwritten work takes time. My electronically-inclined friends claim I’m doubling my time on a story. You could have been done by now. But good storytelling shouldn’t be fast or easy, no matter the method. Writing stories is, for me, a hands-on process, an artistic process of creating a world, of creating a person, of creating a story. Writing by hand allows my creative magic to have its space.

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I Have No Choice But to Revise • Keith Baldwin

Brett Rawson

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WRITTEN BY KEITH BALDWIN

My handwriting is fucked. The penmanship is not as illegible as some, but in terms of how I physically write by hand, it’s all messed up. I hold a pen against my ring finger, like the wrong half of a pair of chopsticks, and form a lot of my letters from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

When I was eleven, my dad finally noticed the issue and approached it with all the vigor and care he’d applied to the insufficient knots in my shoes a few years earlier — just enough to make me feel shitty about it, without solving anything.

He spent a few frustrated hours with me at the kitchen table, correcting the way I formed a handful of letters and the number nine. There was no progress at all toward fixing my wonky grip, which was already too ingrained to be altered so easily.

The upshot is that I don’t have the natural flow with a pen that other handwriting advocates rhapsodize. It’s always a slog for me. If I try to write too quickly, my hand and wrist start to cramp up, so my thoughts always remains three steps ahead of my pen. And while I work to close the gap, my mind is free to become distracted by flaws and omissions in what I’ve already written, leading to aggressive cross-outs and a morass of cramped footnotes that nest and crawl across margins — to be inserted in the main text later.

This would be enough to make a mess of my notebook, but on top of all that — rather than keeping everything in sequence — I have a bad habit of opening to a random blank page whenever I want to make a note, or a list, or play a game of hangman. In the middle of writing an extended scene of fiction, I will often turn the page to find story notes, shopping lists, and broken sentences for my ESL students to practice correcting. Typing up my work becomes a tedious chore of deciphering and reconstructing, tracking down where the story picks up when it’s suddenly interrupted by a sketch of my cat as an astronaut. It is almost as big a pain in the ass to work through it as it is for me to scrawl it out in the first place. So why do I even bother? Why do I keep returning to pen and ink whenever I’m writing something I care about? (You should see the rough draft of this essay…)

I know there are a lot of answers involving the way the brain works in different contexts, and how I formed these writing habits when all I could do on a keyboard was hunt and peck — and blah blah blah, a hundred other reasons why this website exists and longhand is the best. But I think the biggest factor for me is the same one that made me so much less anxious about sharing this mess of pages than I would have been about submitting something more polished. Because no one could ever confuse the contents of my notebook for a finished product — not even me.

On the one hand, this means that I can’t be held accountable for the contents, which frees me to be a little wilder in my first stab at a project. But it also means that I can’t avoid the work that still needs to be done. I have no choice but to revise.

My feelings about revision are pretty much the same as my feelings about flossing — I know I should do it, but it makes my gums bleed. And when my words are neatly typed and double-spaced, with numbered pages and no evidence of the disordered mind that composed them, I have to work to remind myself that it’s still a work in progress — that I can and should question every decision those collected words represent.

The process of transferring from the page to the screen forces me to consider every sentence with a critical eye while I retrace the whole erratic path. And I can’t even procrastinate for too long because, while a few days’ distance can bring fresh insights, a few weeks is liable to leave me incapable of piecing the whole mess together again. (It’s happened. It’s infuriating.)
I know that, for other people, writing by hand makes the whole process smoother. For me, it’s about making myself work harder, and getting better results for the effort.

Keith Baldwin is a writer and tutor living in subterranean Brooklyn while paying exorbitant tuition in Manhattan. He is sometimes worried that he might be one of those lizard people you hear about.

Neat, Cursive, Normal, Lefty • Chelsea Florio

Brett Rawson

BY CHELSEA FLORIO

For as long as I can remember, I have loved language. Whether it's studying foreign languages (from Arabic to Elvish) or learning the rules of my native tongue (English) and playfully finding new ways to break them, I am completely enthralled with learning about the ways people communicate.

Above and below are journal entries spanning the last several years in which I played around with writing in new ways. Many of them are my attempts to learn how to write left-handed because I've always seen ambidexterity as one of the neatest skills on the planet. Interspersed are my attempts at learning Morse code, which I find to be a delightfully mysterious and pretty much forgotten form of clandestine communication. Neither of the skills I've been trying to acquire when very bored are really that practical, but it's a fun way to pass the time. 

I Wanted to Build a Universe • Tonianne Bellomo

Brett Rawson

What happens when it's not just you, the writer, who struggles with the screen, but your characters? In this lyric essay, Tonianne Bellomo walks us through the negotiations she makes with her characters. What does she do to bring them to life? She builds them paper homes. 

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Paul Laudiero's Shit Rough Drafts • A Handwritten Review

Brett Rawson

BY HANDWRITTEN

We recently came across Shit Rough Drafts by comedian Paul Laudiero. After reading through it in one sitting, we spent the next few days losing our marbles. Laudiero's humor is magnetic, often departing as quickly as it arrived, leaving us to enjoy his imaginary musings on the greatest works, shows, and plays of our times.

Chances are, you have experienced several of the 135 books, movies, and TV shows that appear within Shit Rough Drafts. While that'll enhance the experience, it doesn't exclude entertainment. You don't need to have read Eat, Pray, Love to deeply enjoy Laudiero's title-twists.

Shit Rough Drafts exposes process, and in the process, pokes fun at finished products. How do these "must-reads" make their way into the world, and did they ever take a different shape? Are those who we hoist high out of reach just as messy, confused, and lost as we are?

We spoke with Laudiero one early morning while he was strolling alongside Central Park, coffee cup in hand. It was eight in the morning. He was alert and awake, while we were on a porch shielding our eyes from the early morning sun. We told him about Handwritten, and how we wanted to keep the humor in handwriting. He said that was good, because a site like ours would bore people to death. We totally agreed.

Shit Rough Drafts is a new wave of coffee table books. In that, it isn't idle. The book is impossible to not pick up, and difficult to put down. It's not easy then to pick our favorites, but since we had to, here are three that kept us laughing well into a deep sleep:

Up and Back Again • Chad Frisk

Brett Rawson

On the top of a mountain in the Pacific Northwest, author Chad Frisk came to a clearing. He didn't expect to write there, but he also didn't expect to be there, which is exactly why he wrote there. Below is the result in its original shape.

 
The top wasn’t what we thought it would be. There were no signs telling us what to expect. You just stepped up and into a world that was entirely invisible from below.
 
 
How did we get here? we thought. The earth stretched out in all directions like bunched up maps on a cluttered desk. To one side, bright blue lakes linked in a loose chain. To the other, the steep black peaks of unnamed mountains.
 


From Mess to Less • Chad Frisk

Brett Rawson

BY CHAD FRISK

I don’t know about you, but my mind is a disaster. Things are constantly whizzing through and then clogging it up. Things proliferate and congregate, ideally like constellations in the sky but typically like commuters during rush-hour. It’s a mess. Writing is, as I see it, the process of making that mess suitable for display. I learned the hard way that there is an appropriate tool for each step. I wrote the draft of my first novel by hand. I thought it would be cool.  It was actually very dumb. 

I filled fifteen notebooks. I went through a dozen erasers. Oftentimes I chose not to revise because it would be too much of a pain to cross things out and scribble in the margins. When I finished, I typed the whole thing into a Word document anyway, one indecipherable page at a time from tiny, gold-tooled notebooks that refused to stay open on their own.

I didn't know what it was about when I started writing. One day, I walked past an old, abandoned clock shop and thought it would be interesting to write a book about time travel. That was my only idea. I bought a notebook, scoured my apartment for a pencil, and started writing.

I was living in Japan at the time, working at a junior high school as an assistant teacher. That year, I didn't have anything to do. It was my job to go to four hours of class a day and read from a textbook. The other four hours were my own.

I decided to write a book. When it was finished, it had nothing to do with time travel. In fact, it had very little to do with anything. It was four or five stories posing unconvincingly as one, scrawled across 100 Yen notebooks I purchased at convenience stores.

There was a psychiatrist. He was frustrated by his patients' lack of progress, and decided to pursue alternative therapy - which included breaking and entering, kidnapping, stalking, and mild psychological assault. There was a burned-out business man. He was so deep in self-help that he had lost sight of how good he already was. There was a server at a nightclub for the uber rich. She was tired of getting hit on by three-piece suits, but was making so much money that she had convinced herself it didn't matter. There was a ten-year old boy. His grandpa had died, leaving a hole in his after-school routine that he didn't know how to fill.

There were others. There was a detective possessed by the ghost of Dick Tracy, an old illusionist whose understanding and lifelong exploitation of cognitive biases had poisoned his view of humanity, and a girl who lived in a castle with a mother and father who didn't pay attention to her. There was also a beanstalk, a ruined city, and a sleeping giant.

It needed an almost complete overhaul. To do that, I abandoned my pencil for a keyboard. Computers are amazing because they make editing incredibly easy. Point, click, drag, delete. Done. It’s infinitely easier to revise already written words on a computer than on a pad of paper.

It took me about eight months to handwrite the first draft. I spent nearly an additional year revising it. I cringed while rereading my notebooks. The story didn't make any sense. Who were the characters? What did they want? How were they connected? What was the point?

From the flurry of keystrokes, slowly, something that could be called a narrative emerged. I knew that it wasn't good enough, but I tried to get it published anyway. After a half dozen rejection letters (and at least as many unreturned emails) I gave up. 

But I had something. It was all thanks to the computer. Revising the original text by hand would have been impossible.  

But I'm glad I started with pencil and paper.

Handwriting is good because it can go all over the place. Impulse is where my writing starts, and it’s easier to transcribe impulse with a pen than a keyboard. I can scribble, doodle, draw lines, cross things out, and generally be very messy. Out of this mess emerges something coherent enough to take to a laptop.

The process of refining continues digitally, because that’s what bits are good for. I find that the first step in mining my mind, however, is often best performed by hand. 

Chad Frisk is a graduate student at the University of Washington working towards a Masters in Teaching English to Students of Other Languages.  His books include Direct Translation Impossible: Tales from the Land of the Rising Sun, which was published in October of 2014; a Japanese version of the same to be published in March of this year; and and he's working on his next book - this time entirely on a computer. His website is nobodyelsewillpublishme.com.

 

Behind "The Bone Transfer" • Zachary Lutz

Brett Rawson

BY ZACHARY LUTZ

The sketch for “The Bone Transfer” was written in a subway car. Probably the B or the Q, headed to Manhattan. I keep a smaller notebook, pocket-sized, with a white cover. It helps that the surface area is more compact, as well the writing is compacted to fit. Tempts less spectators. In this particular type of free-writing, being surrounded by people comes in handy: there’s no contract for details on the subway. I’ll start with some image that’s been consistent and strange, some reoccurring thought. I’m generally writing narrative work, think non-autobiographical, so I’m not always drawing from experience. Easy to steal from something happening next to me on the train and makeup the rest.

The day I’m taking notes that will eventually turn into “The Bone Transfer,” I’m thinking about cartoon physics, TV tropes. For a few days, I’d been scanning this website/catalog of TV tropes, stumbling through entries. ‘Toon physics got me hooked. The page for the trope made note of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” as being a good example of the crossover between the “natural laws” of the human world versus that of the cartoon, and thus a good reference point for demarcation. I wanted to write something where character(s) experienced cartoon physics in the human world, but maintained their very human portentousness. I had been thinking for some time about how cartoons experience electrocution.

In addition, I’d received a phone call from a BBQ restaurant earlier that day assuring me that if I were to return to the location any time in the near future, I’d have a free meal voucher waiting for me. It was a wrong number call, but stuck with me. The writing I’m doing in my notebook is really just a way to process details. I try work with specificity as often as possible, and to link those details that might at the start appear un-linkable. (A rerun of an episode of “Shark Tank” introduced me to the Uro Club, which is referenced here alongside another sex organ-themed gift. It all returns to the body.)

When I transpose from my notebook to my computer, I’ll edit as I go. I’ll cut whole sections out, rearrange syntax. I change names or pump up the ambiguity. I want always for the mood of the piece to overshadow the context. Writing or thinking through a piece by hand provides me a necessary freedom which I make freer by movement—a faulty retractable leash that keeps threading out, a series of handkerchiefs from the sleeve of an encouraging magician. I recognize themes in handwriting, leave structure for the word processor. The shearing that results from the unmerciful typing-up of handwritten notes helps manage a pace, become more economical, say more heavily. 

Zachary Lutz is a handwriter in Brooklyn. He holds an MFA in poetry from The New School and received an honorable mention for the Paul Violi Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Luna Negra Magazine. To the left is his handprint.