Brain Cravings: Pen and Paper

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When I’m pregnant, one of the common questions I’m asked is whetheror not I get food cravings. (A question I’m surprised I don’t get asked: “Why does she mention being pregnant in EVERY post?” Well, it’s sort of on my mind.) And I almost wish I would get food cravings. Most of the time I have no idea what sounds good for dinner. A craving for asparagus, for example, would help me zero in on menu options.

The type of cravings I do get are a little stranger, and I wonder if any other writers (and other creative types) experience them, too.

For example, when working at the computer, do you ever crave pen and paper?

At the writers’ retreat a couple weeks ago, I had it on my to-do list to take a letter-sized notebook (8.5″x11″) with me, but I forgot to buy it and couldn’t find a single one around the house and ended up going without.

While there, I had horrible paper cravings. I would stare at the computer screen and know that if I could just get a pen in my hands I could work through my writer’s block.

Finally I scoured the condo for paper and came up with some of those quarter-sheet tear-away paper pads with company logos taking up half the space. I felt cramped on that limited paper size, but somehow just the simple act of jotting down a few things by hand helped me push through.

Similarly, this week I finally buckled down and printed out my six-page scene outline.

It’s funny that I kept talking myself out of it before. One of my arguments was that I’d printed out a scene outline with my previous draft and after scribbling all over it, hadn’t really consulted it while revising, so it must have been a waste. Another of my arguments was that I could just as easily type notes onto the document itself rather than wasting paper and expensive printer ink (which I’m running low on).

But when I sat down two nights ago away from my computer with the printed sheets in front of me and a pen in my hand, the whole story started loosening up.

I circled and drew arrows and wrote diagonally and in the margins and connected various pieces with lines, and suddenly I could start to see exactly where I needed to make changes in the scenes and how those changes would make the book come together more.

And I realized that I’d done the same thing on the previous draft. I’d thought it hadn’t helped because I hadn’t referred to it again, but that’s not how helpfulness has to be defined. The help was allowing me to solidify my new vision (re-vision) for the draft — to get it straight in my head so that I had the big picture in mind once I opened the computer file again. For whatever reason, I need to do that by hand.

Apparently research can back me up on that, too. An article I read said that writing by hand uses very different parts of the brain than typing on a computer. And for me to pull off a novel, I need access to as many brain parts as possible. 

I also recently stumbled on Livia Blackburne’s very cool blog *A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing*; if anybody’s interested, check out the “Current Hits” listed on the right sidebar to browse some of the most popular posts. Those kinds of analyses definitely appeal to my brain as well.

What brain cravings do you get? Do you ever absolutely need to use pen and paper?

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9 responses »

  1. I make a lot of to-do lists because otherwise I forget stuff. It also releases anxiety since trying hard to remember everything stresses me out. I tried using software for this since I’m at my computer all the time anyways but it wasn’t the same. My lists have to be handwritten. 🙂

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  2. I actually brought a notebook to the retreat, but never took it out of my bag. I wish I’d known you wanted paper and I would have passed it on.

    I should try paper–I’ve been stuck on the same problem for a while. My writing time goes like this: Open the document, sigh, go do something else. It’s not working well for actually fixing the problem.

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    • I can relate to that problem! I’ve been doing a lot of that myself and wishing we could have a retreat every weekend to keep me dedicated.

      And as for the paper, it’s sort of ridiculous that I didn’t think to ask if anybody had some!

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  3. I get cravings to write things on my wall. Notes, outlines, diagrams, dialog. Some part of me seems to think if I write it on the wall I’ll see the big picture. Can’t wait for my chalkboard wall in my new office. Please hurry mud and tape guy.

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  4. I usually start a story by handwriting the scene or ideas that made me want to write it in the first place. And then I am a paper and pen editor. I just can’t edit as well on the computer.

    P.S. you should have asked me for paper! I had two notebooks with me!

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  5. Pingback: Earaches, Onions, Books and Blogs: Electronic vs Print « All About the Words

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