Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Just Give Me A Box Of Uni-balls

I read a recent blog entry by my friend David Matthews. In it he offered up some thoughts on the the writing process. He mentioned that, when writing, he liked to have a dictionary at hand, along with The Chicago Manual of Style, the Harbrace College Handbook, and Fowler's Modern English Usage. I'm somewhat different. Of course, there's a dictionary, one of the two college dictionaries that I own, and a large, unabridged one in the other room. In addition, there are two other books that I find to be indispensable, the Roget's International Thesaurus and something called the Random House Word Menu.

I like the Roget's International Thesaurus because I've found it to be the best organized and easiest to use. Many writers don't recommend the use of a thesaurus. They feel that one writes in more compelling fashion when using language with which one is most familiar. I think that's generally true, but sometimes I feel like I have the right word on the tip of my tongue but can't quite come up with it. That's when I reach for the thesaurus. There is one sort of situation when I use unfamiliar language and that is need the precise name for something. That's where the Word Menu comes in. It's full of the precise names for various objects, etc. For example, here are a few that I picked out at random. A kibble is the iron bucket used in mines to hoist ore. A barouche is a four-wheel carriage with facing double seats and a folding top.

As for the actual writing process itself, I write out a draft in long hand, then enter it in the word processor. If I'm feeling blocked, or having trouble with a passage, I will do a draft in precise, printed letters. A famous scientist once said that he got his best ideas in the bed, the bath and on the bus. That's the idea behind the printed draft. My mind is concentrating on the actual process of printing out the letters, so that the internal critic is preoccupied and my imagination can work in the background. Something else that works is to take a break play and solitaire on the computer for a little while. I know it's silly, but it gets me through the night.

Then there are the silly habits that so many writers have. One involves location. A lot of writers can only write in certain locations, some of them odd. August Wilson, the playwright, does his writing standing up at the end of a bar. Richard Russo does his in a noisy cafe. He apparently acquired the habit in graduate school when he had to write whenever he could snatch the time. I'm relatively tolerant of location, though I can't write outdoors. I prefer to be someplace where there isn't a lot of sensory stimulation. Many writers are very picky about writing instruments, etc. John Barth said that he has to use a certain fountain pen and on a certain kind of paper. As for me, I use uni-ball Vision roller pens, fine only. If I'm on a roll with my writing, I can use anything, though I prefer my uni-ball. If I'm struggling, it's got to be the uni-ball. As for paper, I don't really care what kind it is as long as it isn't too absorbent. I don't want the uni-ball ink to spread on the paper. If the letters don't have a crisp look on the page, it irritates me.

I'm linking to my friends, the Seabergs. Check out their site. It isn't to be missed.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home