The Writer’s Tools

Word document has always been the go to tool for any kinds of writing, period.  OK, I have been gradually using Google Docs more often, but it is essentially the same as MS Word.

With this digital writing tool comes a big problem – I have lost my ability to spell even the most basic words.  I can type spell them but I cannot spell spell them…

I remember a cold winter in 2005, I was a first year university student, my first ever proper university essay, I can’t even remember what the topic was nor doesn’t it matter.  What matters is that it was a long one and my tutor, Dallas Seitz, whom I am forever indebted to, told me to ignore the world’s negative criticism on me and just roll with my ideas and believes, but this is a story for another time.  The first gift Dallas gave me, which to be honest, took me years and years to appreciate, was that he wanted my (our) first ever proper university essay to be written with a pen on a piece of paper. That’s right, pen and paper, no computer, no typing, no cheating.

“I don’t care if your handwriting and your submission is full of mistakes that have been crossed out, but if you submit your essay nicely typed up, I will fail you without reading it.”  Says Dallas

It surely sounded like a thread and it was fully intended to be a thread, but every time I encounter a writer’s block, I can hear Dallas whispering to my ears, “Pen and paper!”

He is right, using pen and paper does seem to help me with really nailing down my ideas.  I think it’s the fact that I can’t keep typing and deleting what I have just written, it is a completely linear process, there isn’t an undo button, my ‘mistakes’ are all there staring right at my face.  More importantly, holding a pen seems to give me some sort of magical thinking power that a keyboard and a mouse can’t.

So I did a little experiment with this writing unit – I was very stuck with writing an outline that is coherent, I kept writing and deleting what I had written on the same word document, I then opened a new word document and called it draft 2, and then there was draft 3, draft 4… I was at my wits end, so I reached for a notepad and a pen.  All of a sudden, my ideas came flooding in. What I have noticed as well though, writing with pen and paper isn’t a linear process at all, I was able to go back and forth much more freely than writing on a computer, I can put my pages next to each other and shuffle them around, I could add notes and thoughts and draw next to my own writings.  OK, granted, I could probably do the same on a computer, but how many clicks do I need before I can highlight a sentence on a word document? And where is that add comment function? It’s just too much distraction during crunch time!

Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much in love with Google Doc because it’s live and I shall never lose any of my writing.  I could just log onto any computer and carry on writing, but whenever I am writing on a computer, I become a lot more serious but not in a productive way, I also have the urge to keep changing and editing and I have a habit of playing with different fonts and formats and using different colours to highlight sentences… it’s kind of fun, it makes me feel I am actually doing something.

There is also another tool I want to talk about, one that I never thought I’d ever need – a screenwriting tool.  Now, the article I am writing is based on a conversation with myself, so I had long thought that maybe a screenwriting software would be worth giving a go.  After some research, I decided to try a software called Highland, it is a rather minimalist screenwriting app that is developed by working screenwriters – there isn’t any fancy interface, there isn’t very many fancy formatting options, users would have to learn some basic commands such as using capital letter for the characters names, using + to highlight sentences and if you want to have you text larger like a topic or header, then you’d have to start the text with a #.  It took me less than 20 minutes to get used to it and oh my god, it’s a brand new world for me. No more excuses to distract myself, no more playing with the format. Most importantly, the app kind of makes me feel like a writer so I just keep on writing and writing and writing. I actually found a newly refreshed energy to write.

So I ended up with three very different versions of my outlines that essentially are all talking about the same thing:

Pen and paper:  It’s all about me, what I want, what I need.  I am right and I am right and you are definitely wrong.

Word docs – The most level headed version, let’s see what other people have to say about my ideas and they are probably right and I am probably not entirely right. I felt like an referee, an administrators rather than a writer.

Highland screenwriting app – I feel like a storyteller, I present a story along with facts and some wits here and there.

None of these tools is a clear winner and I think they serve different purposes at different stages of my writing.  I am glad I have once again found my love of using pen and paper, I am also very glad that I have found a screenwriting software that gives very little distraction and so far Highland is the most productive writing tool for me, the good kind of productive.  

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