Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A (Blurry) Glimpse Into My Notebook

I do most of my writing on my computer. I love it. I love the click of the keys, and the way they feel beneath my fingers (I can’t type on my wife’s keyboard; the keys are stiffer and sound ‘clackier’. Blech). I love watching words appear on screen as if by magic.

But every Sunday I get together for what’s supposed to be two hours and is often more like three, with a group of writers. We socialize a bit, read from some sort of a prompt, and free write for forty-five minutes or more. When we’re done, we share what we’ve done and talk about it. It’s not a critique group, exactly, it’s pretty soft in that regard, but it’s fun, and it’s practice, and every so often, I come up with something I really, really like. But that’s another story.

I use a black-and-white composition notebook for this. I like it, quite a bit. It’s a nice change of pace from sitting at a computer, and sometimes, if I’m really, really stuck when writing at the computer, I’ll take up the pen and notebook and hand write. The change of pace is often just what I need to get unstuck, for some reason. Trying to read my work, however, can be hazardous. Aside from my poor penmanship (and, if I recall, that was always one of my lowest grades back in elementary school), I have a tendency to do stuff like this:

What do you mean, you can’t read it? Are you drunk or something?

  And this:

Crummy images, I realize, and I apologize. You don’t get the full sense of how much has been crossed out or moved.

It’s especially difficult to read to a group of people when you have to follow an arrow around to the backside of the page. Sometimes I use numbers to help me keep track of where I need to go, sometimes I don’t. The funny thing is, when I’m in a heavy writing session, I don’t edit quite as much as I do at the writer’s group. And some pieces at writer’s group get far less editing than these two pieces. I think sometimes I just fizzle out early and run out of material to dump on the page. That’s when I go back and start playing.

Oddly enough, looking at my notebook, with its cross-outs and its arrows and the occasional margin notes of WTF??? and STUPID reminds me of how much I love the process of writing, of how fun it can be. Maybe part of why I like hard copies so much is because of the reminder of where I’ve been, and what it takes to get a ‘finished’ product. The notebook – or any hard copy that’s been edited – is like a road map of thought, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Do you use a notebook, or write exclusively on computer? Ever have trouble following your self-edits?

American Thanksgiving is this week.  I have much to be thankful for this year, and am looking forward to the Magpie’s long weekend home (not her first time back since August; we brought her home for a short stay a week and a half ago so she could see the school musical; we kept it secret from the Catbird, and man, the look on her face was priceless when she saw her big sister). For all of you, be safe and be well, and happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate!

9 Responses

  1. Oh, how you just made me laugh, Jeff! Thanks for that! Yes, I do use a notebook, a 6" x 9" spiral bound one in which I lay out my entire outline, which is really more like a rough draft really. I have to it this way. As much as I like to think of myself as a plotter, this notebook is where I "pants it". Yes, there are lots of cross-outs and arrows and tons of * those little stars I can't figure out how to spell. I love the freedom of it. But yeah, I do all my writing at my desk computer. I hate typing on my laptop as I always seems to send the cursor flying off into space somewhere.

    Isn't it great to have the kiddos back for the holiday? Have a happy Thanksgiving, Jeff! God bless!

  2. Imagine how much these are going to sell for at auction in a couple of years! 😉

    I write on the computer, but I outline on copier paper. Seriously, I steal from my printer. Then I end up punching holes in the sides and cramming it all in a binder.

    It's quite inefficient, really…

  3. Happy Thanksgiving for this week 🙂

    Wow, I keep thinking MY handwriting is bad, and then I see doctor's scrawl or the scrawl my teachers use when leaving comments, and I feel a lot better about my handwriting. You just made me feel like that too, haha. 🙂 But I see what you mean about all of the crossing out and arrows and numbers for where you've written something extra on the next page. When I write long-hand, I do similar things. Probably not that much, because I usually transfer straight to a computer once I've finished writing, rather than edit straight to the pages. I prefer to write on the computer. My mind gets too far ahead of my fingers otherwise and I end up leaving out chunks of a sentence as my pen tries to keep up with my train of thought. Reading over my work doesn't make as much sense when that happens…

  4. Thanks for the T-giving wishes, Bonnee. And I'm glad I could make you feel better about your own handwriting, hah ha.

    I don't usually edit directly in my notebook. At my writer's group, I'll get into that wild, numbered, arrowed stuff when I run out of things to write before time's up. Or if something's really, really bothering me when I'm writing. I also write differently when I'm in that 45 minute chunk of time than when I have a longer period available. I think I edit more when I have less time (and I'm expected to read it out loud).

  5. What a wonderful post! I love getting glimpses into writers' notebooks. I do the same. Mine are a mess. Notes and symbols everywhere! So glad you'll get to spend some time with Magpie! Have a safe and happy holiday! I'm grateful to count you as one of my writing friends.

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