On Writing: Dredging Up Emotion

When I started writing novels, I wrote longhand because I didn’t have a typewriter or a computer. After I got a computer, I continued writing longhand. I believed that I had a better finger/mind connection writing by hand than I did typing and, in fact, many researchers have discovered the truth of that connection.

After a few months of being on the internet and having a computer, I became comfortable writing my blogs on the computer. It was easier not to have to retype my words, and luckily, I didn’t have any problem figuring out what to say or how to say it.

I have recently resumed writing novels, and I have no inclination to go back to longhand. For one thing, I now have a hard time holding a pen for any length of time without my fingers cramping, and for another, I can’t read my handwriting and type at the same time. If I can see the written page, I can’t see the words on the computer screen. If I can see the words on the computer screen, I can’t see the written page. Just one of the many ironies of dealing with a body that is slowly aging. (I’m grateful it’s aging slowly and that I haven’t yet reached the falling elevator stage of getting old.)

computerI have discovered a couple of interesting points about writing a book on a computer. It goes so much faster. I can type almost as fast as I can think of things to say, which sometimes is a glacial pace and other times like a running faucet. And I feel the emotions of my character. Perhaps I feel the emotions because they are mine. The main character is a writer named Pat. Coincidence? Maybe. Even I no longer know for sure. (I am getting confused which dance class is real — the one on my computer screen or the one in the studio. The other day in the studio, I talked about a classmate “Jackie” and everyone looked at me as if I were nuts. I could be. Jackie was the alias I gave to one of our classmates for the book.)

I still feel that there is a better connection with my mind when I write by hand, but I think it’s a mind connection rather than an emotional one, and it took me too deep. Typing on the computer may not deliver ponderous thoughts to the page, but it does help me dredge up emotions, which aren’t quite as deeply buried.

For example, as I wrote the following paragraphs, I could feel the anger building, and the anger stayed with me even after I closed my computer. I don’t know if that’s good for my peace of mind, but if the anger comes through to the reader, that’s great.


I froze. I didn’t just go rigid, I also got chilled, as if my internal temperature had dropped about twenty degrees.

As one, Rose, Kim, Buffy, Rhett, Lena, and Allie turned to stare at me. If Madame ZeeZee noticed, she would have been pleased to see their acting as a single entity. Margot and Jackie followed the other women’s example and glanced my way, but the two ballerinas didn’t seem to know what was going on. And maybe they didn’t know. They hadn’t been at the lunch where we’d discussed ways of killing Grace.

Deep inside my arctic body, I found my voice. “Why are you looking at me? I’m not the one who came up with the insulin scenario.”

“But you’re the one killing us,” Rhett said.

I went from ice to fire in an instant. “What the hell is wrong with you people? Do you really think I’m so powerful that my thinking of writing a story about murder will kill you? If so, you’d better be damn good to me, or I’ll write you off next.”

Jackie laughed. “You tell them, Pat.”

“Grace’s death was your fault,” Lena said.

I whipped off the belly dance skirt I’d donned a few minutes before. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry Grace is gone, but I’m not the one who initiated some insane pissing contest that got her killed.” I grabbed my street shoes, and opened the door. “I’m going home to put all of you in my book. Goodbye.”

The door closed slowly, as if their silence were a physical presence so great it couldn’t be contained. Right before the door completely shut, Rose’s words drifted out. “Did ya’ll hear that? Did she really say ‘pissing contest’?”

Ah, so much fun!


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

6 Responses to “On Writing: Dredging Up Emotion”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Yikes, nice excerpt. Just try and keep “real life” and the novel separate. 🙂

    My dad was a journalist and journalism professor. Since he type, my brothers and I learned how to type at an early age. It was easy to switch over to computers because editing on the screen was better than having to retype a lot of words on paper every time I changed something. Heck, I add a paragraph on page one and that meant retyping the entire book book back in the days when publishers wanted everything on paper. I can’t read my own handwriting either.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I was one of those girls who didn’t learn to type because I was afraid that if I did, I would be stuck in a secretarial position. One of the many things I love about computers is that boys are forced to learn to type now, too.

  2. Constance Says:

    You keep typing those paragraphs and keeping me enticed.

  3. Coco Ihle Says:

    When I was in high school girls were led into either College prep. classes or Business classes. Those going to college didn’t take typing, because that was in the business curriculum. That was a huge problem when I got to college, because I had to pay to get my papers typed for my professors. I had to teach myself how to type when I started writing seriously years later. I’m glad technology has changed all that.

    Good job, Pat, on the emotion is this post. Looks like you’re moving right along.

  4. frederick anderson Says:

    After years of credit transfers and Paypal, I tried to sign a cheque the other day, only to discover my signature had left me for foreign parts. I had trouble writing the amount, but I went into spasm as I tried to sign it! Yes, I too find my emotions travel straight through the keyboard to the page. Personally, I love that,but then I never could leave the page and walk downstairs. I tend to live my writing, and if it hurts, I guess its meant to.

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