Sustainable Writing



I’m not exactly sure how you do it folks, after all, there can’t be any one right way, get it? Sorry. Dad jokes just kind of come natural these days. The last few weeks I’ve been wasting valuable writing time as well as spending my Amazon gift cards (still solid from Christmas) in the wee hours of the night trying to find answers. My first book, Modern Waste, I wrote in my normal fashion. Armed with legal pad and sharpie in a self-commanded taxi, or a noisy coffee shop, I created that beautiful monster. Then, I would become frantic, typing the manuscript based on my scribbled crazy handwriting as I deciphered, edited, and tried to make sense of what had happened. To say these methods worked is debatable, as they lead to a published novel with only mild success.

I have also for a long time used Scrivener. This program allows you to outline your book, post research, and Scrivener will also let you to compile your work into the Kindle book format. You can use Scrivener for organization and plug (feed the beast) using Word if you don’t like typing in Scrivener, which I do not.

I also must post a disclaimer because I love editing. Yes, I said it, I love editing. Turning a book into some kind of nice neat little package, taking off all the rough edges, adding in brilliant moments can all come from the editing process. This of course can be a problem if you happen to use sheets from a legal pad to get the first word out. Sometimes I get the pages out of order, lose them, or just can’t read my own handwriting. Not that I ever care, but I also seem to get a lot of crazy looks because I end up staring around the coffee shop or the bar before getting into a writing craze in which people think I am writing about them. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not actually looking twelve inches past my own face.

About two years ago I started using Dragon. Well, let’s be clear, I started using Dragon to procrastinate. This software has come a long way as well as the microphones used during the process. I remember trying to use something like Dragon on our old 486x while my geeky friends and I would just laugh and laugh. Now, I have an Olympus digital voice recorder that I can take anywhere. I then plug into Dragon and let it do its thing, which means that it turns it into the written form, almost automatic. I find that the digital voice recorder leads to a whole lot of editing, especially if I write in my car. When I first started using Dragon two years ago, I had a microphone headset that actually had to plug into my computer. Now, it’s 2016 and I’ve moved on making that completely unnecessary via Bluetooth. For those of you who know me well, all apologies, but I sure do love to talk.

I’ve recently read a dictation book called How To Write A Book Without Typing It in 6½ Easy Steps by Sean Fiedel. The author discusses the fact that stories came by oral tradition first, then quill, pen, typewriters, which led to computers. Oral tradition came first; no kidding, this made me wonder how much better I could be if I just went back to our roots. Often I find myself unable to type as fast as I can think or get a sharpie to hurry along with my scurrying thoughts. Let’s be clear though, I can type fast, and I enjoy typing fast. But the fact is that I find myself editing the same time as writing and this is just no good. That is why when I am going raw on the first draft, I prefer to be in a noisy place with my yellow legal pads and black sharpie. The best thing I could do as far as productivity is concerned is dictation into Dragon what I have written at the café. Then I could sit down later and have fun editing it, making inner jokes about mistakes which Dragon makes oh so often.

I must warn you that dictating your book, short story, or poetry is not for everyone. There are some pitfalls when doing this but there are some great rewards as well. You have to work with the program a little and get to know how it interprets words. You can also let the program take a look at some of your other documents to get a better idea of how you write. While no speech to text software will give you 100% accuracy now, what you will get is volume. Last night between the hours of 12:30 AM and 2 AM, I was able to crank out 4800 words of a short story that I had made up on the spot. I used two sentences that I found scribbled on the top of a legal pad written in a dive diner three weeks ago. I couldn’t tell what I was thinking at the time when I wrote the sentences down, but I just kind of took and ran.

I warned my wife before I was going to do this that she would hear me talk in bed. She has become accustomed to me doing all kinds of maniac things in the middle of the night so she didn’t seem surprised at all. In fact, she said something to the effect of “so what’s new?” The voice inside my head became the voice I spoke into the room, to my dogs and my poor sleeping wife. I’m eager now to get into my 3rd cup of coffee and see what kind of brilliance and terrible grammatical errors occurred last night. I might add that I mumble on occasion and Dragon really doesn’t like that. I also found that while drinking wine helps get over the stage fright, after the second glass the sweet juice can be a deterrent. I must admit even right now I am dictating this blog post into my computer, and I know that I will have to do a lot of heavy editing. I don’t mind this, but if you are the type of writer who hates editing, until they create a 100% solution, this method is not for you.

Also, a word of caution, it is not healthy or advised to look at the computer while you are dictating. While it is possible to make corrections with Dragon on the spot, just let it go. While I enjoy fixing errors and correcting, there is a time and place for that. It is my impression that if you are a serious writer, the editing should be separate from your notes, outlines, and first draft. I believe that the writer should be completely unencumbered and free as if they were sitting in the front lawn in a wicker chair, naked, drinking a margarita.

Another book that I found pretty enlightening titled The 8-Minute Writing Habit by Monica Leonelle. Like most nonfiction e-books, this one is short and full of a lot of common sense. Most of the information contained in the book every aspiring author already knows, but what I did find within the glowing pages is the notion that you can, and should in fact right anywhere, anytime. You should also write early in the day, so if you don’t get a chance to later, you still feel accomplished. She has several exercises which revolve around eight minutes of writing. I’m not as interested in writing for only eight minutes, or timing myself for that matter, but she has opened my eyes to the possibilities that writing doesn’t need to be a sedentary task. No need to be locked away in your vault for hours at a time. Also, one can find the time during a busy schedule, which we all have now. You can carve out your piece of the writing pie without alienating your family, quitting your job, or getting nothing done. Sometimes authors need a little kick in the pants to remind them that there are in fact no barriers to writing that novel and this book has done that for me.

Besides the self-publishing books that I’ve been devouring lately, which I will get to in a later post, I’ve also read 8 Hour Bestseller by Tim Castleman and How to Write a Novella in 24 hours by Andrew Mayne. Both of these books opened my eyes in different ways to achieve productivity. Sticking to the mantra of naked on your front lawn, clutching a margarita, I think the main point is be unencumbered. Your first draft is just that, your first draft.

There may be some authors out there that strive to write their perfect, finished copy while they sit at the first go around. I would argue that these people, if they are successful, are unicorns. What this most likely leads to is a whole lot of staring at the screen and less productivity. I happen to love finding something that I have written in the past which is ugly and making it pretty. I also find it if I concern myself with this process while I’m writing, what I end up with is actually less perfect and more contrite.

I also learned from these books to think even more outside the box. One author mentioned that they often write on their iPhone while waiting at a restaurant for other friends to arrive, waiting for their husband/wife to make a decision at the grocery store, or all those other times when people are checking their Facebook or Twitter action. If I added up all these times that I used in this unwise fashion, I would have at least the beginnings of 10 books by now. It is important for me to not look at the poured well of the past, time lost on memes or cat videos. Reading these books, I began to realize what was right in front of me the whole time.

I drive a lot. No, I don’t have any kind of regular commute, or brain demoralizing time spent in traffic. I do often joke to myself that I get paid to be places, just to show up. I often use this time to call family and friends, capturing the unwilling in conversations that to them must seem to last a millennial. Because I’m talking into my car most of the time, using Bluetooth, it is as if these people are sitting next to me riding shotgun. This time could actually be writing books time instead.

My wife bought me a Kindle fire for my birthday and I told her to send it back at once. I had the notion that I was going to buy a hybrid laptop, the kind with a detachable keyboard that would replace my aging laptop computer. After doing a little research, I found that I could purchase a case for my Kindle fire which included a Bluetooth keyboard. Brilliant. For the past few weeks I’ve been writing a short story on a tiny keyboard during stakeouts while working as a Private Investigator in my car. Yes, I still have fat fingers but it is much better than trying to type with a touchscreen. Not a good swiper here but those of you who do that are awesome and my hat is off. This makes me wonder if one could write a book using auto fill. Insert nervous laugh here.

I’ll spend some more time in another post discussing my ever evolving editing process, but I wanted to point out two things. I’ve recently discovered the Hemingway app. This little gem is free with the online version, but I opted to download for about 10 bucks so that I can use it when I don’t have the interwebs. The Hemingway app will tell you what grade level your writing at, how many adverbs you need to get rid of, phrasing suggestions, use of passive voice, and how many of your sentences are hard to read. More on editing later, but I seem to use the Hemingway app as the last burn before sending the manuscript to a professional.

Speaking of professional editors, I have little suggestion at this time other than you should send me your manuscript and I will mark it in red ink. The important thing to remember though is that you cannot edit your own work or, you cannot edit your final draft. Yes, a new set of eyes is necessary for putting the icing on the cake. This is not always perfect though, I paid to have Modern Waste edited and there are still some mistakes, like names of cities or makes and models of cars, something that is perhaps regional or colloquial.

While Modern Waste was only around 20,000 words, it can be quite difficult to tackle the editing of even a novella, especially if it’s your first. Yes, you can workshop your work or find another author buddy you know who won’t skate around too much. I find that reading your work out loud can be quite helpful.

I think it’s always interesting to find books that tell you how to write, promising all kinds of crazy production. These can be helpful and some of them you should read while others you should throw away. I read reviews, especially the 3 star reviews because they seem to be the most honest. You have to find what works for you. While I have just cranked out 2000+ words using Dragon, still in bed sipping coffee, you may find that talking out loud to yourself is both frustrating and insane. While I still enjoy clacking away on one of the many antique typewriters that I collect (hoarder), I think there’s a time and place for this, namely poetry. I’m not sure how effective I would be dictating poetry, and I’m not sure that I want to find out. A loud coffee shop and one plus backup sharpie or old typewriter by candlelight is the place for that.

Find a method that works for you that is sustainable. I am only dipping my feet in the sustainability waters so please take my advice with a grain of salt. Thanks again and please contribute to the discussion. Worked Stiff: Poetry and Prose for the Common will be coming out soon, so I appreciate you subscribing to this blog so I can keep you updated. More on my editing process later.


One thought on “Sustainable Writing

  1. Lady Dawson

    The wife also suggested that theres more to the Kindle Fire before sending it back. Note… she loves technology, so if she buys something there is use to it. 🙂
    Via Android swipe.


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