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Filtering by Tag: Process

Creating a Visual of the Very Big Picture • Steph Jagger

Brett Rawson

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My name’s Steph Jagger and when I look back at my life, a pretty clear pattern emerges: I like to go big. It started with Egg and Spoon races and then turned into things like traveling to far-flung countries, smashing world records, and writing books. Well, to be fair, it’s just one book so far, but I know I’ve got some more in the chambers, so let’s just say books (plural). 

In any case, when I dig deeper into all of those things, I see another pattern, one that’s buried one layer under going big. And when I think about it, perhaps its one of the ways I go big. The pattern is called writing, by hand, on paper. I scribble ideas, notes words, and phrases, I use them to create a visual of the very big picture. I scrawl paragraphs down in journals to “skim the fat” from my brain before writing things in a more solid form. I put ink to paper because it helps ideas come out of my head because what use are they in there anyway? I need them out. And once they’re out in some hand-written, half-formed way I can start playing with them and turning them into something big, something bigger than big.

My first book is called Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery, and because this is a place that celebrates the handwritten, I thought I’d show ya a little behind the scenes, sneak peak into the pen and paper part of my process. 

From one writer to many others,

I printed off the calendars I kept from my ski trip. They served as a log for the vertical feet I skied on any particular place and when I was writing I used them to fact myself as well as jog my memory about particular places.

Handwritten notes I took while workshopping my very shitty first drafts with the wonderful Carly Butler and the unbelievable Patti M. Hall:

Cue cards developed at HarperCollins with my editor to help me understand the placement of each scene. The cards were changed, altered, and manhandled up until the very end:

A close up of one cue card:

People used to ask what it looked like to write a book, and about how I kept things straight when my brain and my heart were on fire. This is how: I booked a cabin in an isolated part of British Columbia, and filled one of it’s walls with my cue cards and post-it note additions: 

This is what “skimming the fat” looks like — the journals I kept throughout the writing process. They had NOTHING to do with the content, just a practice that allowed me to get rid of the shit in my head before I started writing:

I started with the Hero’s Journey story arc. It was drawn onto paper and pasted on the wall behind my computer. This was the first thing I did before ANY of the writing began.

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Notes from others: a note from my agent about my contract, and a note from my editor when the final book was mailed to my door. These are both hanging up in my office.

So what does all of that hand-writing get you — a lovely winter jacket. God I love puns. 

Steph Jagger splits her time between Southern California and British Columbia where she dreams big dreams, writes her heart out, and runs an executive & life coaching practice. She holds a CEC (certified Executive Coach) degree from Royal Roads University and she believes courageous living doesn’t happen with one toe dangling in, but that we jump in, fully submerge, and sit in the juice. Think pickle, not cucumber.
Her first book, Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery was published by HarperCollins in January 2017.
You can find more at www.stephjagger.com or on Instagram @stephjagger

This is Where I Battle My Writing Demons • Sheila Lamb

Brett Rawson


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.


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.


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



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


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. 

The Story Ribboned Forward, Inventing Itself • Karan Mahajan

Brett Rawson

For author Karan Mahajan, handwriting is a necessity, a fact almost. He writes every first draft by hand, and while he encourages everyone to as well, he doesn't care if you do. But we do, so read this interview and hear his fearless take on how handwriting cancels self-criticism, as well as helps you avoid getting needlessly attached to language and doubling backward into revision before a story is complete.

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The Best Work is Work You Don’t Understand Fully • A Conversation with Special Forces Medic & Poet Graham Barnhart, a Special Forces Medic, Poet

Brett Rawson


Graham Barnhart is from Titusville, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the oil industry. He is an 18D, Special Forces medical sergeant, and has been deployed twice: once in Iraq for nine months, and the other for seven months in Afghanistan. I didn’t know all this when I met him at Hotel El Greco in Thessaloniki. All I knew was that Graham Barnhart was a poet and my roommate for the summer. We were the only two men taking part in Writing Workshops in Greece on the island of Thassos. It being my first time living away from home and having a roommate other than my parents, there were a lot of question marks in my eyes.

The day we were to meet, I went for a long walk along the port to the White Tower and other landmarks drenched in Greek history. In between monuments, I wondered if Graham and I were searching for the same thing; if we would be capable of having a good time with a beer in one hand and a pen in the other; and if we could mix the sentimental with the comical, the work and the play. A few hours later when I returned to our hotel and skipped up the flights of stairs, I was stopped by an unfamiliar, familiar face. I wasn’t sure what Graham looked like—his Facebook profile picture was a black and white image of a random old bearded fisherman—but something told me this was him. 

“You’re Graham,” I said, almost accusatory. 

“That’s me,” he replied. 

I would learn this to be his normal, quiet, calm exterior. I would also learn that he wildly records his surroundings, almost instantly rendering them into lines of expression. One of our first nights, we sat in the restaurant beneath our rooms, watching locals throw napkins over the others dancing to the live music. When Graham asked why they did this, I told him it was a sign of respect, to the musicians and to the dancers. During the first student reading, Graham read a poem about his time in the military and in Greece that centered around the image of the napkins.. He had this uncanny ability to live in the moment, to inhale all that was around him and let it all sink onto a page, and a poem, as he exhaled.

Throughout our time together, I learned something else about Graham — he handwrites wherever he goes. This makes sense, as he is always on the move in the military, but I wondered how he balances the two worlds — the military and literary. We caught up recently and talked about this: his time overseas, balancing the military world and the literary world, and his thoughts on the handwritten word. 

DEMETRI RAFTOPOULOS: In Thassos, you carried around your notebook everywhere, especially on our excursions to other towns. What kinds of things were you writing? 

GRAHAM BARNHART: I write down a mixture of notes and poems, usually more notes and lines than full ideas for a piece. I try to pursue an idea as far as I can in that first jotting, to get everything out as it occurs to me. I try not to list off ideas for what the poem will be about. That feels like a shying away from the sometimes (often) daunting moment of inspiration. That moment when you can feel but not yet articulate all the potential of the idea that has struck you. It’s too easy to try to categorize or outline that idea than put it aside. That avoids all the hard work and limits the creative potential to what you already understand or can conceive of.  

The best work is work you don’t understand fully until you’ve written it. It’s better for me to have the image or handful of lines so that I can come back to them, hopefully experiencing again whatever it was that made me want to write them in the first place.  A good idea or plan for a poem can sometimes turn into a trap.  

RAFTOPOULOS: Yeah, I don’t think I ever fully follow through with an “idea” the way I thought I would when it first hits me. Always lands on the page differently than it does in my head. What’s your process like?

BARNHART:  I tend to start by hand though I don’t usually think of my handwritten work as a first draft until it hits a computer. On paper I might complete a poem but keep marking it up, fussing with it really, until I get motivated enough to actually type it up. That’s when I know I have a draft rising up out of all the daily notes and scribbles that I really want to pursue. 

Handwritten work feels more in-progress to me, like I haven’t quite found the right configuration of ideas and images to call it a poem. Once those components are present I do most of the finer tuning on a screen. That’s when I start thinking about outlining or diagraming the piece and when I add notes for further revision. The handwritten phase is not always a requirement, but it serves as a permanent record and a well of all the ideas and lines that might otherwise be forgotten. I love to flip through my current and older notebooks as a way to warm up to writing.  I don’t always ending up working on the piece I sat down to revise but something usually happens. That’s all I can ask for sometimes. 

RAFTOPOULOS: Absolutely. Do you always use the same notebook, or do you have different ones for different purposes?

BARNHART: I’ve always kept some sort of a notebook, though kept might mean that it sat in my room or desk for weeks without being used. I have a bad habit of writing down ideas in whatever paper is handy rather than using my designated writing notebooks. So I end up with notes and drafts scattered through everything else.  

Having a pen and paper handy is a big deal in the military. There is always information being put out, whether it’s the time of the next formation, how many rounds of ammunition you’re drawing for the range, or a casualty description for a medevac request. It’s considered unprofessional to show up for a briefing or class without something to write with and on. That comes in handy when trying to take poetry notes. No one really questions what I’m doing. Not that writing poetry would be a problem, but explaining my writing to a soldier would be about as long and complicated a conversation as explaining what I do in the military to a civilian. It’s just easier most days for everyone to think I’m noting the effect range of a 60mm mortar. 

RAFTOPOULOS: And one notebook specifically that you described to me as a “writeintherain” notebook.

BARNHART: Yes. Recently — the last 15 years maybe — little flipbooks kept in zip lock bags have been replaced with waterproof notebooks made by a company called “Rite in the Rain.” They have thick, waxy pages and only work with regular, old ballpoint pens, rather than the fine tip pilot pens I really like. In fact the notebooks even come with an “all weather pen” which is just a short, steel ballpoint.   

RAFTOPOULOS: How about your handwriting — does it change from notebook to notebook? I imagine writing in the rain could “weather” your penmanship. 

BARNHART: I don’t make the handwriting look different on purpose, but because of the materials used it just does. It actually feels harder to write on the all weather paper, kind of like the notebook is resisting anything not specifically military. Though of course it’s also a pain to write military stuff. That material tends to be short notes and lists rather than lines and stanzas.       

I mentioned not being very good at keeping my writing consolidated. So on top of half filled moleskins lying around I also have a bunch of waterproof notebooks filled with operation orders, mortar targeting grids and the occasional poetry stanza. I don’t try to keep these things separate in the notebooks though. I like the juxtaposition.   

RAFTOPOULOS: You have experience teaching and I know you want to teach in the future. Do you think you’ll assign writing prompts in class, just so your students are forced to write by hand as you sometimes are? 

BARNHART: I think in class writing prompts are fantastic, especially when they’re handwritten.  That format forces a sense of urgency but also of care. You have to physically create each letter, but you may only have 5 minutes, or 10.  For me this frees me from my normal analytical and self-editing process. I just get something out there that follows whatever external guidelines the prompt demands. Some people don’t like prompts feeling they stifle their own creative process. I rather think that prompts free your creative process from you, if you are diligent and faithful to the restrictions. So in short, yes, I will absolutely assign handwritten prompts.

RAFTOPOULOS: How did you decide on pursuing an MFA? 

BARNHART: I decided on the MFA in undergrad and actually started the application process before I decided to enlist. It seemed like the best way to pursue a writing career and avoid student loans for as long as possible. I knew I wanted to write and didn't much care what sort of real life job I ended up with so an MFA seemed like the right way to go.

RAFTOPOULOS: What was it like writing or attempting to write in places like Iraq and Afghanistan? 

BARNHART: I wrote very little digitally during deployments. In fact I didn’t write much at all. I took sporadic handwritten notes when an image caught my attention, sometimes even a full poem but I didn’t spend much time actually working. I regret that now of course, I wish I had at least kept better daily logs. 

On both trips I did have my own room with a desk, a bed and some books. I wouldn’t take my laptop out on patrols or missions of course but it was around. I always had a notebook in my pocket though. Actually it was in a pouch on my body armor. I kept pen and paper, some caffeine pills and a little iPod shuffle that was plugged into my ballistic hearing protection. The pouch was intended to hold shotgun shells so it had little elastic loops sewn all over the inside.   

RAFTOPOULOS: How were you able to balance both of these worlds — military and literary? 

BARNHART: Most days if I ended up with some notes or lines, I felt like that was a success. It was a sufficient sign that I hadn’t given up or lost writing which was a big concern for me post undergrad. I went from learning to write in an environment structured to support that to one structured to support a very different goal. I was also learning and studying in the military, but of course none of it was directly poetry related. It helped to think of it, especially the miserable stuff, as material. 

RAFTOPOULOS: Were you ever worried that you would stop writing completely? 

BARNHART: There was a point during the medical training when I actually thought I would. That course was intensive. We did physical training from 6:30-8:00, and then we were in class from 9:00-5:00. Afterwards, we spent three to four hours studying. There were written and practical tests every week. Learning that much medicine that fast pushed everything else out of my head. I completely forgot all of the Arabic I had spent the last six month learning. I didn’t feel like I had the capacity for any other kind of thinking.  

RAFTOPOULOS: I can imagine. I’m happy you haven’t stopped writing. How much of your poetry is inspired by your time overseas? 

BARNHART: Much of my writing is loosely inspired by my deployments, mainly Afghanistan because it was more combat-oriented and also more recent. Many of my poems are set there, though I prefer to rely on an ambiguity that implies the setting alludes to it. I think of the war and my military time in general as a useful context for exploring ideas in poetry but I don’t think many of them as “about” the war, or at least, the ones I find more interesting to write are not.

Then again, my time in the military is relatively short compared to most of the guys I worked with. Some of them have been to Afghanistan more than ten times, though some of those trips were as contractors. I’m hesitant to talk about what the war is like because I only know about my brief experience, leaving out the long history of this conflict, not to mention that largely silent or unheard voices of the people who actually live there. I never want to say this is what Afghanistan is like. I can only say this is what I saw in Afghanistan while I was there as an American soldier. 

Graham Barnhart is an 18D, Special Forces medical sergeant, and is an MFA in Creative Writing candidate at The Ohio State University. His writing has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Sycamore Review where he was a finalist for their 2014 Wabash prize, Subtropics, The Gettysburg Review, and Sewanee Review. He is also a finalist for the Indiana Review's poetry prize and the Iowa Review's Jeff Scharlett Memorial award for veterans. And is hoping to be back in Greece next summer so Demetri can continue drinking tsipouro with him and translating Greek for him. 

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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From Mess to Less • Chad Frisk

Brett Rawson


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.


The Materials Matter

Brett Rawson


I am often asked, “What are you going to do with all of those?” in regards to my ever-amassing collection of notebooks.

The tone people adopt when they ask me registers as an accusation, or a warning that they’re going to turn me in to the reality show Hoarders’ producers and stage a televised intervention. True, the amount of notebooks I’ve accumulated makes moving daunting (the journals, both blank and filled-in, take up at least four standard file boxes, and are heavy). But these bound batches of scribbles mean the world to me. Because it isn’t just the words that matter — the content ranging from teen angst to amateur poetry to higher ed revelations — but the format. The tangibility. The way the words look on the page. The way my handwriting sometimes forms tight serpentine ribbons or grows looser and larger when tipsy or tired or both.

The materials matter; even the notebook choice tells a story. Moving chronologically, my notebooks upgrade in quality from flimsy composition notebooks (Harriet the Spy-grade Meads) or one-subject college ruled notebooks I also used for high school Trig, to those ubiquitous ribboned moleskines, or Germany’s analogue, the Leuchtturm, or even the notebook in which I composed this draft—a Stamford Notebook Co. lizard embossed cobalt beauty handbound in England.

The medium change means a few things: 1) I moved up one ladder rung in the service industry and could afford nicer products, 2) I was starting to take myself seriously as a writer, and each double-digit-$ notebook was an investment in that continued pursuit 3) other people were taking me seriously as a writer, and gifting me nice notebooks for holidays 4) I realized the paper quality, brightness, and thickness, all contributed to the actual look of the text.

I began to appreciate the aesthetic of each individual journal entry, independent of the actual written content. 

My Telescope is Pointed in a Different Direction

Brett Rawson


As a kid, I preferred to cruise in crowds and tell stories in front of audiences. I didn't like to read or write. By eighth grade, I had left both far behind: my reading and writing levels were three years behind me. I remember my mother used to turn on the microwave timer for thirty minutes, pleading me to read, if not just look at, any book. I'd say of course, she'd walk away, and fifteen minutes later, I'd approach the microwave, and press five buttons one second apart, mimicking the end of the thirty minute session, and with not so much as a be back later, I'd be running down the street toward a cul-de-sac of activity.

But in between two rice paddies, around the age of twenty two, I discovered the wild noise and absurd worlds that existed inside me. By simply putting thoughts to paper, new universes of ideas came flowing forth. Each night, as I sank into these stories, I found a sense of relief in a new kind of silence: writing by hand. In the beginning, most were about the everyday, but I recall many faraway thoughts. I ran after each, even if it meant brushing up against a vanishing point. I didn't always make it back to where I began, but I also realized that wasn't the point. I was supposed to be, or perhaps get, lost. 

A decade later, my closet is the only one complaining about my now daily practice. The process itself is about processing, and during stretches of time when I am not handwriting enough, I feel the difference in my mind. The distraction, echoes, and pressures. They build up if I don't clean things out. There is continuity is all the connections: these kraft brown journals. I have a few that exhibit some decorations, but those are specifically journals I keep to write about writing. When I open up these covers, I walk inside an open. And in that undisclosed place, nothing has to make sense. 

Didn't we just discover a new planet? We're always discovering new planets. My telescope is just pointed in a different direction.

Behind "The Bone Transfer" • Zachary Lutz

Brett Rawson


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.

No Other Place Publishes Process • The Origins of Handwritten

Brett Rawson

In early Spring of 2015, Sarah Madges set out on a project surrounding the Handwritten word and recalled Brett mentioning a project he had recently begun. She reached out to ask if the project was still alive. It was, barely. The exchange served to reignite the project and has since turned into this site, which Sarah is also to thank for, as she since came on board as a central curator for the project. Below is their initial exchange about the idea for the site you are seeing today, which is constantly evolving. 

SARAH MADGES: What inspired you to develop a publication/project surrounding the handwritten word? What is your own experience with handwriting?

BRETT RAWSON: I knew I wanted to start something last winter. I took a course at The New School that had us look at digital storytelling, and I found great calm mixed with wild energy in this embrace of and attitude toward technology - how can we use technology to promote our passions, digital or otherwise? On a morning in February, I was on the L train brainstorming for a separate project when the word Handwritten appeared from somewhere. I had my notebook in hand so I scribbled it down. I happened to be heading toward a workshop put on by PEN, so I wonder if that had something to do with the whole thought. At any rate, the word opened up the idea itself: a home for the handwritten word online. 

There is no place that publishes things other than finished products. I wanted to promote process. There's a bunch of theories and thoughts about handwriting, penmanship, and personalities. I do think about them, and I care about them, but I am not specifically concerned about them. I don't really care much about their outcomes or conclusions. For example, I find it interesting what people think my handwriting says about me, but I care more about saying things with and through my handwriting. What comes of it in the end is not really something I can consider while I am doing it. 

The idea is pretty simple—for people to express themselves with pen and paper, and be published for it. It's also to be a preserve of sorts—for letters written by those who have passed, for example. I am always writing by hand. I don't always write my stories by hand, though most things usually begin on paper—in a journal, on a napkin, or a legal pad. I do, however, write a lot of letters. It's how I ease myself into writing for the day. I can't jump into writing on the computer without starting by hand. I have to start somewhere free. In this sense, it's like stretching, doing yoga, starting out slow, or warming up. 

MADGES: What is the project's mission statement? 

RAWSON: A place in space for pen and paper. But I have been thinking about changing it to something a mentor of mine once said: writing is a physical activity. 

MADGES: Are you concerned that handwriting / cursive lessons are being eclipsed by keyboard proficiency lessons in U.S. elementary schools?

RAWSON: I'm not so sure I am that worried about cursive. But that's probably because mine is horrific. In fact, my regular handwriting sort of looks cursive. Or maybe it looks like it is cursing. It's hard to tell. Someone once said my handwriting looks like a string of wasted wingding characters, which is offensive, but true. But handwriting altogether, what a horrific waste of natural talent. The hand is how we gain access to our inner self. I really don't think the computer can access that wild, raw energy inside each of us. When using a computer, I get an external feeling (usually in the form of mild swells of panic), whereas when I write by hand, the noise from everywhere really quiets down, and I can finally hear my own voice.

The people making these policies, or mistakes, probably don't write by hand much. I imagine they see it as a waste of time, or something of the past, that we should get with the times and technology. This measurement feels imprecise. And it isn't a matter of sentimentality. It also isn't about one or the other. I wonder when people will wake up and coexist - to stop living in some world of ones. I write on the computer all the time. I have four twitter accounts, a Facebook profile, page, and group, five Instagram accounts, one tumblr, and three websites. You know? It's not like I don't get the beauty and power in the computer, let alone its efficiency, insanity, and amusement. I am a user, and I love using it. But what a fucking mistake to not teach kids how to write by hand. So I guess I am concerned.

MADGES: Do you notice a difference in the kinds of things you write when you use pen/pencil as opposed to a computer / word processor? How do you think the writing tool affects content/style/etc? How do you think it affects the editing process?

RAWSON: Absolutely. The medium affects everything. The effect is also bilateral. The reader adjusts his or her expectations based on the medium. A letter is sort of like dining out—there is an experience to it. An email is more like take-out, delivery, or TV dinner - it is often more quick, requires less from me, and can be done while doing something else. 

That being said, I don't see it as a matter of good or bad, better or worse. It is simply different. Writing by word processor is more about a product or outcome—a finished something—and so pieces composed there are usually toward that end. But with handwriting, it is more so a work of progress, or process. It is, inherently, more private and intimate. Computers are meant to connect, gather, and scatter. And the screen in between becomes a kind of reflection and projection, which can be a disorienting feeling that registers at a deeper level. Handwriting is about process on two levels -- one, it is about the process, but two, it is a way to process things. Not necessarily produce a product. 

MADGES: Phenomenologists have argued that the self falls away when we are engaged in an intense activity, usually one that collapses the sense of the mind-body split by activating both elements. Do you think the writing implement of choice could act as a bodily extension, and that writing by hand helps combine subject and object in ways that promote intimacy with a text, whereas typing into a word document promotes separateness of subject and object?

RAWSON: Fascinating. I imagine this has to be. There is a oneness when it comes to things like painting, the piano, or even running, and so it would make sense that it carries over to hand-writers. It makes me think of meditation for some reason, only I don't really know why. There is intense freedom within limitation, which might be why the computer is such an energy vampire. It pokes so many holes in our concentration containers that after a short period of time, we feel totally drained. Whereas with the handwritten word, I think of a dam and what happens when everything flows through a single thing—it harnesses a new kind of energy. Because with handwriting, you aren't concerned really with what you're writing. There is something hypnotic about the way in which the hands moves. 

MADGES: Anything else you would like to add?

RAWSON: Keep the beautiful pen busy!