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.

Excerpt:

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.”)

The World of Writing as I Know It

Debra Purdy Kong is an established mystery writer with two published series: The Casey Holland mysteries and the Alex Bellamy mysteries. She has her own blog, and she’s also a co-contributor on The Write Type blog, posting marvelous articles about the state of the publishing industry, such as How Social Media Helps, and Hurts, Are Conferences Losing Attendees? and Interesting Info on the State of Publishing.

When Debra asked me to take part in a blog tour that focuses on the writing process, I jumped at the chance if for no other reason than to introduce this fascinating woman. The arrangement is that I answer four questions about writing, then choose three other writers who will do the same. So I choose . . . you and you and you! All you have to do is answer the following questions on your blog and add a link back to me.

#1) What Am I Currently Working on?

Right now, I’m still concentrating on posting a blog a day, and I’m working on a non-writing project. That project should be finished in about three weeks, and then I will begin writing a new novel, something fun and whimsical. It started when my dance class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. I wasn’t going to write the story since it seemed a good way to lose a lot of friends, but at the lunch the other day, I almost whacked one of my classmates with my dance bag, and she deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.” So I decided to write the book. I mean, how could I not use such a perfect line?

#2) How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Light BringerI don’t really write to a genre. Libraries and bookstores used to be set up with a mystery section, a romance section, a science fiction section, and then all the rest of the novels. That’s what mine are — one of “all the rest.” (When I’m forced to name a genre, I say suspense/mystery because my novels fit better in that category than any other.)

The disheartening aspects of not having a genre are more than offset by the joy of having created four unique visions of the world, dozens of characters who would not have life without me, and vivid word pictures that exist only in my books.

Each of my books shows a particular vision of the world as I know it. A Spark of Heavenly Fire shows the horror of an all-too-possible pandemic, the even more horrific steps the government is ready to take, and the various ways, both heroic and craven, people might react to such an eventuality. More Deaths Than One shows the unthinkable results of mind control experiments, experiments that have actually been perpetrated without our knowledge. Daughter Am I is a more light-hearted romp, a treasure-hunting tale of finding oneself in a most unlikely way. And Light Bringer hints at a world where the Sumerian myth of a tenth planet — a planet of doom — is fact.

#3) Why Do I Write What I Do?

I write what I do because those stories captured my attention and kept it during the long months it takes me to write a novel. I know I’d be better off if I tried to write books that would capture the attention of a large readership, but I can only write what I’m enthusiastic about.

#4) How Does My Writing Process Work?

Seems silly, I know, in this electronic age, but I write fiction in pencil on loose-leaf paper. (I have a better mind/writing connection using pencil and paper than I have with a keyboard; a mechanical pencil is easier on my fingers than pen, and paper is easier on my eyes than a computer screen.)

I don’t know the entire story before I writing, but I do know the beginning, the end, and some of the middle. That way I can have it both ways: planning the book and making room for surprises.

I need to know a bit about the hero, but most of the time I get to know the characters the same way a reader would — by the way the characters act. I also need to write the story in the order it happens — it’s more satisfying for my logical mind and easier to keep track of — but if I get to a place where I know something happens without knowing what, I will skip it and go back later when I know what is missing.

So, there you have it. That’s how I write.

What about you? What are you currently working on? How does your work differ from others of its genre? Why do you write what you do? How does your writing process work?

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Cursive?

Some schools no longer teach handwriting beyond kindergarten or first grade and some teach it not at all. It seems strange to think that few children growing up now will ever write anything by hand, but they won’t need to. Computers, tablets, phones are all just an itch away. Kids today are in constant contact with their peers, using a form of language — textspeak — that would have been anathema just a generation or two ago, but it is their world, not ours. They will have to be living in their “modern” world when we who are adults now are long gone. (I put quotation marks around modern because people in every age going back thousands of years have considered themselves as living in the modern world. And of course, they were right. To people in each era, their contemporary world is like the head of a comet with past trailing along behind. Someday a future era will be at the head — the new “modern” world — and our current modernity will be lost in its tail.)

I read once that the only place besides the brain where we have grey matter is in our fingertips, and perhaps that is true. I seem to have a better hand/brain connection when I am writing longhand than when I am typing on the computer — or at least I did. I wrote my novels long hand because that is the easiest way for me to delve into into myself for the story. I’m not one of those writers who can sit down and let the words flow. I have to sit and think about everything I want to say, and to figure out the best words to show what I decide to say. I’m getting used to writing on a computer since that’s how I write blogs, but I have a hunch that longhand is still the way to get deeper into my mind, where buried insights might have a chance of showing up on paper. And research bears this out. Apparently, writing by hand helps generate ideas.

In school, I always did well on tests without much studying because I took copious notes during class while other students daydreamed, talked, or doodled. New research explains why that was so — supposedly we have a better chance of retaining what we learn if we write it longhand rather than printing it or using a keyboard.

Other research shows that writing longhand, printing, and keyboarding all produce different brain patterns. For optimum brain usage, then, it would seem necessary to use all forms of writing. And yet, learning is not necessarily about optimum brain usage; it’s about standardizing not just information, but the students themselves. (That’s why they’re called standardized tests. If school was about teaching children to be independent or to develop their unique skills, they would be called something else like “Unique skills tests.”

When I started writing this bloggery, I intended to show that cursive was still important, but considering that kids today will have a different world to deal with than we do, maybe it’s better that they learn computer skills early on. But what do I know? Perhaps if I had written this essay by hand instead of typing it, deeper insights would have shown on the page, and I’d have a better grasp of what I think.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire

Handwritten copy of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Blogging is Morning, Writing is Evening

I was afraid that when I got involved with writing my new novel I would have to stop blogging, but here I am. I discovered that blogging and writing are two entirely different types of composition, using different parts of my brain, so one does not supersede the other.

Blogging is my morning writing, which I do on the computer. It is linear, logical, and entire of itself. The beginning and ending not only bracket the body; they reflect each other like sunrise and sunset or birth and burial. Because I keep it short, knowing how difficult it is for some people to read online, I can see the article all at once, which makes reblogging easy. (If good writing comes from rewriting, why shouldn’t good blogging come from reblogging?)

Writing is my evening composition. It is linear and logical in that every reaction I write is preceded by an action and every action is motivated, but the process of writing is anything but logical. A hand/mind connection comes into play at night when I sit in a cocoon of light, pen in hand, paper before me, that doesn’t seem to apply during the day or when I am at the computer. That is the time when magical things happen on the page, when subconscious ideas come to fruition. Sometimes the ideas come slowly and the words come hard, in which case I go to bed early. Other times my hand can’t form the words fast enough, and I lose the idea. Those nights I go to bed early, too. But sometimes, oh sometimes, the ideas come, the words flow, and the night goes on forever.

Of course, when morning comes, my linear mind takes over, and I chuck some of that immortal prose into the trash. But I do keep a few of the pages, rewrite others, and the story grows.

I write for myself, more so now that the possibility of never getting published is finally sinking in, but who do I blog for? Myself, too. This journal is a message from the blogging part of my brain to the writing part and if it pays attention, my writing should improve. At the very least, I am developing a database of writing hints for when I (or you) need help.