We all have our ways of doing things. When I’m plotting out a novel or a longer story I always start with pen and paper. I like to use my favourite fountain pen, and quartered sheets of A4. I do something similar with a short story too, though I’ll probably just write down a few key things that anchor it. I’ll always use pen and paper.
There’s something about the process that works well for me, though I don’t know why. All I can say is there’s a connection between mind and eye and hand so they feel like three parts of one thing. Pen and paper stimulates and focusses my imagination and lets the ideas flow – though not in any order. I’ll brainstorm everything in a few sessions, one plot point, or scene, or character, or piece of dialogue per piece of paper. I’ve found this much more useful than using a notebook because later on I can arrange and re-arrange the bits of paper into groups and piles – a structure starts to emerge.
At some point I’ll read through the stack of notes and off I’ll go again with more ideas, more bits of paper, and at least one recharge of the pen with fresh ink.
Back in June we were on what turned out to be a brilliant, happy, productive and relaxing two weeks in Cornwall. We’d hired a 1-bed beach cottage and our days became ones of early morning writing, beach walks and ice-cream, writing, pasties for lunch or supper, sea-swims, and conversations in the evening over a bottle of wine.
Someone had left a book in the cottage: Between the Lines, Ba (Hons) Drawing, 2018, Falmouth University. It was fascinating to see pictures of the students’ work and read the comments each of them had written about their art and inspiration, and the connections some of them found between the paper and the pencil or brush in their hand with the concepts in their mind.
There were some suggested exercises in the back of the book. One of them was titled Automatic Writing is Drawing Too. The instructions were simple: ‘Start Writing. Don’t think about the words until you’ve filled every bit of empty space.’
It was a good exercise but the concept startled me. Writing is drawing? I pushed against the idea then realised they were right. Drawing is a way to communicate and express ideas on paper, and what is writing if not that? Writing with pen and paper really is a kind of drawing. It was obvious, I’d just never thought about it that way.
It made me wonder if that productive link between mind and hand and pen is really because when I do it I’m not writing or drawing, I’m doing both.
David Gullen was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and has been writing short and long-form science fiction and fantasy for most of that. You can read his fantasy detective novel, The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, on Wattpad, or his eponymous web site. He is the current Chair of the Milford SF group.