I can type between seventy-five and eighty-five words per minute on a QWERTY keyboard. When I started work on The Total Manageability of Everything, I thought that typing the words would be the most efficient way to get the story out. At that rate, the entire novel should have only taken fifteen hours or so to write, but writing is not so simple.
I kept finding myself facing blank pages on a screen, despite my classroom speed at filling them, so I called up my best friend, the Real Cal, to share with him my frustrations. I asked him (he was teaching creative writing at the time) what he recommended for his students to overcome that paralyzing "writer's block" that I kept running into. I knew that if I could just get going, I could write like the wind and get everything down.
The Real Cal told me that my predicament was a common one. Most people, even successful writers, feel that exponential increase in inertia whenever they sit down to actually do the work, one word at a time. The blank page is intimidating, it puts a lot of pressure on whomever is in front of it to add something brilliant, breathtaking, and beautiful. Most buckle under the stress of trying to live up to every page full of words that drove them to want to write in the first place.
Eventually, with enough practice putting one word in front of the other, it will be easier. Once it's second- or first-nature, you will fill pages without even meaning to. Until then, it's important not to take what you're writing so seriously. Get a notebook, a cheap one, and write the first draft by hand.
I had already typed my first draft of what was then Book I of The Total Manageability of Everything, but I took his advice and resolved to finish the draft by hand. The Real Cal said that it would save me time on revisions to type up all of my handwritten pages because awkward word choices and new insights into plot details would be easy to correct in the translation from paper to screen.
That first draft ended up being 200,000 words. I should have listened to him and bought cheap notebooks, but I've always had a soft spot for Moleskine journals. That soft leather cover is what I wish all books felt like, and I felt important writing my own words in one. The pocketbooks were cheaper and made me feel like a creative genius, pausing to dramatically unfasten the elastic band before jotting something down before the thought could escape me.
Those rascally thoughts! They were too quick for a process that required me to take out my notebook, discern its orientation (both sides of Moleskines are black and nondescript. Unless you order custom, in which case they're even more expensive,) unfasten the strap, find my page, and get that classy annoying bookmark ribbon out of the way of my pen to actually write something down. I needed a simpler and cheaper solution.
So here's what I did:
I Found a Pen I Liked
This is the most important step. The wrong pen can send you into tirades of fury about its inadequacies, but more egregiously, the wrong pen can slow you down. It needs to flow so that you can be comfortable with it in your hand for hours. Ballpoint pens drive me crazy because they insist I press down when I'm writing. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Lastly, because I'm so narcissistic, I insist that my pens be permanent and waterproof. 200,000 is a huge number of words to risk being destroyed by a chance thunderstorm or a creek side accident. My dad once asked me if it ever made me nervous that everything was in that one notebook, and I told him it was something I was constantly thinking about.
My pen of choice is a Uni-ball Vision Micro in black. I'm thinking about switching to blue ink, but the only time I've written in colored ink was when I wrote the first mushroom scene in Chapter Four.
I Picked a Pocket Notebook
The pen is only half the story, but second in importance is being able to write as fast as you need. My Moleskine was too cumbersome for daily use, although it did lend a sense of austerity to my writing when I used the large softcover versions. For pocketability, I switched from Moleskine to Field Notes and now I always have between one and four Field Notes on me at a given time.
One notebook stays in my back right pocket for whenever I need to jot something down. Field notes are small, feel sturdy without taking themselves too seriously, and are ready to go immediately after opening. My back pocket notebook is an insurance policy against having an idea for something to write down and being unable to do so before the thought slips my grasp.
The others are related to specific projects. When I was writing The Total Manageability of Everything, I didn't bother dedicating a notebook to it, but for my new project (a zombie novel set in Portland, OR,) I have filled two Field Notes already. Part of the decision to dedicate notebooks to the project came from the fact that half of the novel takes place inside one of the character's own research journals, but I digress.
I subscribed to receive six new Field Notes notebooks every few months, and now I have lots of paper.
I Picked a Large Notebook
When it's time to take whatever I've written seriously, I'll consolidate my Field Notes into a larger notebook dedicated to that particular project. As you may have already surmised, the notebook I prefer is a Moleskine Large Softcover. I have one for each major project.
Armed with an endless supply of pens and a renewable notebook supply, I can write down anything I need to wherever I am, get a second shot at it when I transcribe it into the larger notebook, then I'm already taking a third pass by the time I'm typing it all up.
That being said, full disclosure, I wrote this article entirely on my iPad.