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Writer’s Craft # 126 – Treasures on Paper

July 22, 2013

Holly Jennings

Holly Jennings


Holly Jennings writes speculative fiction from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. She has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, AE Sci-Fi Canada, and elsewhere. For more, visit www.hnjennings.com or follow her as she attempts to understand twitter @HollyN_Jennings.


When Lynda first asked me to write an article about the richness of writing in notebooks, I felt my stomach twist from the dirty, little secret I’d kept hidden from other writers for years. So now, I stand — or rather sit — before you to confess my greatest literary guilty pleasure.

I prefer the computer to the notebook.

As someone who enjoys painting, the blank screen reminds me of a canvas full of possibilities while a spiraled, ruled notebook reminds me of school and homework. I crave 1” margins, perfect Courier text, and double spacing on demand the way most people crave their double tall macchiatos with extra foam (Sprinkled cinnamon on top? Really, what were you thinking?). And yet, I’ve found an undeniable fault with my love for all things digital: it’s way too easy to hit the delete button.

If a story I write doesn’t sell in six months, it ends up nestled between My Computer and Internet Explorer: inside the Recycle Bin. I’ve tried battling my compulsive need to digitally erase my rejections, failures, and do-overs. I even created a scrap folder for retired stories titled Don’t delete or the ice caps will melt and you’ll be living that horrible dystopian tale you wrote every day. Needless to say, it was to no avail (so get your life rafts ready).

In 2011, when I was packing to move back to my hometown, I came across an old banker’s box stuffed in the corner of my office closet. Inside, I found notebook after notebook filled with stories and half-finished chapters from my pre-laptop years. I had unearthed a custom-made time capsule, a treasure chest of themes, characters and ideas that were important to me a decade ago, and some that still are today.

I recently completed work on my first novel, which ended up a mishmash of the old and the new, fresh premises combined with characters created during my first incursions into writing. Had I typed these original story nuggets, they’d now be forever lost in the black hole of deleted Word .docs and corrupted .txt files, and I may have never found my way home — both in city and in spirit. So as much as I love my computer, there is one truth I just can’t deny…

I owe a lot to the notebook.

What story gems have you uncovered in your old notebooks?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2013 6:13 am

    I actually use my old notebooks, and new ones, for my blog, johnhenrybeck.wordpress.com. I take either a finished or unfinished story and complete the story and post it. I like using the computer but I find my notebooks to be something that is purely fun and I don’t have to worry about smoothing or publishing.

  2. July 22, 2013 11:06 am

    I never did any writing except journaling (LOTS of that) before I got a laptop. Then I wrote an entire fantasy trilogy (www.starseersprophecy.com)! I never would have written it long-hand, or even on a typewriter (remember those?)

  3. July 22, 2013 1:29 pm

    I so agree with you! when writing longhand I can’t keep up with my thoughts…and since I’m an artist too, the white screen and those little keys beckon. I’m so much older than you and this will totally date me, but…I used to watch Our Miss Brooks on TV when I was 10 or so and fell in love with the typewriter! during high school typing was almost my favorite class! And although the computer keyboard is not as satisfying as a real typewriter in sound or in action, I’ll take it over writing any day!
    thanks for your post!

  4. July 22, 2013 8:26 pm

    I much prefer writing longhand, at least for the first draft. Writing by hand gives me something that feels like a physical connection with the story. And it slows me down, so that I can fall into the world I’ve created and stay there, immune to the angst of spelling and punctuation errors. But when I type the day’s work into the computer, what I’m copy-typing is pure and unaffected by what I “should” be writing. I’m closer to the characters, their emotions, the world they live in . . . and I can correct the mistakes made in the previous day’s work.Of course, I’m a very fast typist (usually!), so once I’ve melted into the world and characters, putting that day’s draft into the computer doesn’t take long at all.

    • July 27, 2013 12:17 pm

      I’m with you. Writing long-hand is way better. The computer feels far too impersonal, but I guess we all have to find what works best for ourselves.

  5. July 23, 2013 8:38 am

    I generally prefer writing on a computer, but I also carry a notebook at all times. It has to be a reporter’s ring-bound notebook and my pen has to be gel. No idea why. Just a weird habit! I start at the front of the notebook and work my way to the back, then I flip it over and go back the other way. My notebooks are a ragged mess by the end. I generally just use my notebooks to jot down bullet points to be expanded later when I sit down at my computer, but some of these occasionally end up as full-blown narrative on the page to be copy-typed later on. Plus an occasional sketch or map.

  6. Phil Goetz permalink
    July 25, 2013 7:20 pm

    Longhand vs. typing… I picked neither! I have voice recognition software now, and it is awesome. No more been limited by how quickly I can type or write, and no more aching wrists. I’m using it right now, to write this comment. Notice how it figured out all on its own when to use ‘right’ and when to use ‘write’? ( I had to tell it for that second sentence, though.)

    Why on earth would you delete your old stories?! Was your hard drive getting too heavy with all those bits on it? You know that your entire life’s output of writing will occupy something like one one-millionth of a modern hard drive?

    • Phil Goetz permalink
      July 25, 2013 7:21 pm

      I see it wasn’t clever enough to write “being” instead of “been”.

    • July 28, 2013 8:22 pm

      Haha. There were very few times where I purposely deleted a story. More like they got deleted in one way or another. Corrupted files, computer crashes, viruses, broken floppy disks (when I still used those), etc, etc. And then there were all those times I “quit writing forever” but I usually kept all my files in those circumstances.

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  1. Notebooks or Journals Part Two | Clarbojahn's Blog

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