The Art of Being Prolific – Tip #3 Going Old School

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The Art of Being Prolific is no secret. For any writer, getting that first draft out there is a matter of simply putting your fingers to keyboard, or in a more nostalgic way pen to paper.

Many writers like myself look at using a pen and paper as not only a nostalgic way to write but also as a way to carefully write, putting on paper only what we want to say. With a computer, you can mess up as much as you want and it takes a few simple keystrokes to eliminate the mistake forever. However, with pen and paper, mistakes stay. People will see your mistakes. Worse – you will see your mistakes. Have you ever found yourself daydreaming while typing on your laptop? I have. So, when a writer goes to paper, your way of thinking seems to be all that more important – you need to stay in the moment.

Like many of the tips in the Art of Being Prolific series, the focus is not solely on speed, but rather ways to write, that will keep you writing. Whether this means you put aside blocks of time, multi-task your writing, or write in short bursts, the importance of being prolific is simply writing. Creating that first draft is often the most difficult part of writing. Once the first draft is completed, you at least have something to play and tinker with through the editing process. For me, as long as I have the first draft, I am more confident and likely to finish the book. I’m either compelled or motivated – both emotions will drive me to completion.

Tip #3: Pen and paper, going old school

Admittedly, I have not used this technique in several years. In fact, the last time I used it I almost got in trouble. In my early twenties, I had taken a job working in a factory. Writing for me consisted of two things. I was writing memoirs and autobiographies for people in local nursing homes as well as my novels. I thought I’d give it a go at romance novels. Don’t ask me why. Maybe money, maybe an outlet… The technique I am going to talk about was my go-to. I always had a pen and notebook with me. Always! 

One day I was working at a machine that had seven-minute cycles between tasks. So, I would work for one minute and wait for seven. This gave me about six minutes of writing every seven minutes which I used frequently. During my first two weeks I was writing romance, and getting into the gritty stuff. Of course, it was destined to be a best-seller.

After my first couple weeks at the company, my leader called me into his office. “Hey, you’re doing great. We’re glad to have you…” Blah blah blah. I thought he was going to give me a raise or promotion. Then he asked, “You’re a writer, right?” I said I was. He then talked about writing for a little bit. Then said he only called me in to make sure I was enjoying the job and to have some face time. That was nice I thought. As I reached his door to leave, he told me to wait a minute.

“I’m a writer too,” he said. “Would you mind if I read you something short that I wrote.”

“I’d love to!”

“He feverishly went for her breasts. They were damp from the evening air…” or something cheesy like that.

Uh-oh! I’d written that the day before. He tossed me my notebook which he’d had on his desk for our entire conversation. I didn’t have a clue.

“I don’t care if you write on the job. It’s a boring job. Just, when you go home, don’t forget to bring your notebook with you.”

I slowed my pen and paper practice shortly after that. Of course, I’ve gone back to it a few times over the years, but for only a few days at a time to clear my mind.

So, let’s talk about pen and paper a bit.

Using pen and paper to write is not a quick-win for writers looking for 10-20 pages of typed material a day. It is the slowest of techniques we will discuss in the series. But, it offers some advantages that the other techniques don’t offer. For example, you can do it almost anywhere. When I was in college, I always had a notebook with me, and always used it. I made it a ritual that anytime I got in my car or got out of my car I would write a few sentences or more in the notebook. Besides writing, this also improved my punctuality. By the time I was 20 this process had ensured I was early for everything. I had to be; I needed to write just a bit more.

I would write while waiting in long lines. I would write while watching television. I would write before, during, and after class. I would write at lunch. Seriously, I would write everywhere. What resulted was a lot of output and dozens of spiral notebooks, many of which I still have in boxes around the house.

The ability to write almost anywhere and at any time is the genius behind using pen and paper to be prolific. The motivation is when you begin to see notebook pages filled with the scratch you call handwriting. Seriously, when you fill a notebook and fan out those pages, the feeling is exhilarating.

This is also a technique that debunks the excuse of, “I don’t have time to write.” I’ve heard the excuse often, and may have used it myself, but as long as you have your notebook and pen with you, that excuse doesn’t hold up. Words per minute (wpm) for writing isn’t as comprehensively studied as it is for speech, but from most of the information I’ve found the range for an average person is between fifteen and thirty wpm. Let’s say you manage to put aside six, ten-minute sessions a day. With the lowest wpm average, you’d still be looking at 900 words per day. For fun, let’s assume you wrote every day of the year at that pace: 328,500 words per year. For more fun, that results in three to five adult-length books as long as your last name isn’t Tolstoy. For trivia knowledge, Tolstoy’s War and Peace has a measly 587, 287 words which ranks thirty-one on a list of the longest books. The longest you ask? Devta, by Mohiuddin Nawab which tool him only33 years to write from 1977 to 2010 and mere 11,206,310 words. It had to be broken into 56 volumes just to make it palatable for the reader. Considered a single volume serialized fantasy it is likely to remain unchallenged as the next closest is just over 2,000,000 words: Les Hommes de bonne volonté, by Jules Romains (and you didn’t think you’d learn anything life-changing this morning).

I would still use the technique of pen and paper. It is still one of my favorites. It is inexpensive, motivating, and brings you to the core of being a writer. The only reason I don’t use it anymore is that my entire life is writing, and I’m lucky enough to have entire days and a long future of writing from home.


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