Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Think it up, write it down

Image by Hans Genthe

Laptop, desktop, Underwood or pencil: what works best for you? How has the way you write (and submit stories) evolved since you started?


by Dietrich


The first time I wrote anything novel length I used a pen on lined paper. A lot of stroked out words and balled up pages later, I had a first draft which I kept in a box. I was in my mid-teens and a pen and paper were the only means I had of getting the story down. I learned to type in high school and some years later, I cranked out my first short story on an antique Underwood Standard I acquired. The cap P had filled in, but other than a couple of keys occasionally jamming together, I loved the sound of the clacking and the crisp stroke of the long keys, the ding of the carriage return, and the overall heft of the vintage beast. On the downside I went through Wite-Out by the quart. Some years after, I got a much lighter self-correcting electric Smith-Corona. It was smooth and efficient, and I didn’t end up with nearly as much fluid and ribbon ink on my fingers.


Then came a string of Macs, starting with the Color Classic II, followed a few years later by a Power Mac, then a G3, and finally a couple of generations of iMacs.   


Those early typed submissions were dabbed with correction fluid, and had snippets of replacement lines and paragraphs taped and glued to the pages. The original typed pages looked like ransom notes and had to be photocopied, then submitted by mail. After which, I waited, and waited, and waited for a reply. These days I just type THE END, and I hit send. And although I miss the clanging and dinging of that old Underwood, nothing is neater or easier than a laptop or desktop. And there’s no need to copy and collate the whole thing, then stuff several hundred pages of a manuscript into a giant envelope and trudge off to the post office.


I don’t do it every time, but I still like writing a first draft in longhand, and in spite of the ink smudges and a tired wrist after hours of writing, there’s something satisfying about the organic process. Sometimes I scratch with a pencil, although they need frequent sharpening; other times I write with pens that sometimes leak, or with fine-tip markers that may smudge. And although it proved even slower and messier, I even tried a refill cartridge fountain pen someone gave me as a gift.


And it's longhand when I’m waiting on the departure call at the airport, or while I’m sitting on a rocking train, writing with the little overhead light on while other passengers are sleeping through the night.


When I’m working on a story, I’m forever writing little notes to myself — story ideas or some kind of direction to myself — leaving them in a stack next to my computer.


Aside from the writing itself, it’s far easier and so much faster to do the bulk of the research on the internet — much faster than going to the local library, or waiting for something to be sent by mail. And internet connections are like lightning these days — remember dial-up internet, waiting from that bleeping handshake?

6 comments:

Brenda Chapman said...

A trip down memory lane! We've come a long way in a short time :-)

Terry said...

I loved the sound of the clacking typewriter, too. Part of that was because when I was a kid my dad went to graduate school, and my mom typed his papers. I remember going to sleep to the sound of the typewriter.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I can only imagine what's coming next, Brenda.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Terry. One of these days I'll get another vintage Underwood. I really regret giving away the last one I had.

Susan C Shea said...

I am smiling at the image of you writing on a train. Very writerly!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan. It is a great way to let the miles go by.