Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, March 15, 2010

Charles Dickens' pen

Charles Dickens had a pen he used for each book. You know, back in the day when authors wrote out their manuscripts longhand with pen and ink-- yikes! Dickens would not use his authoring pen to write letters, or to write bills or notes or any of the other daily writing he had to do. He didn't want to contaminate it, or muddy the waters, or confuse creative writing with business-type writing.

This really makes me think. I use my laptop for EVERYTHING. Emails for business, friends and family. Blogging. Research. Business-- creating fliers, press releases, and all that. And every so often, I whip over to wordperfect to sneak in a few hours of creative writing on my current novel. Which often seems distracting, confusing and just plain wrong. At least according to Charles Dickens. And maybe according to me. The switch from blogging to writing to business to casual emailing gets blurry and I'm not sure it allows me to plumb the depths of my creativity.

My last two, (or is it my first two?) books were written before I had internet on my laptop. So I'd check my email on a different computer, the one in my husband's office, and use my laptop solely for working on my manuscripts. That was also before I started blogging. My routine was open laptop, go to ms., start writing. Now it's open laptop, check email, check blogs, comment on blogs, and then I also do outside work on it as well. Is my writing suffering? I'm not sure yet. We'll see what my first reader says of this draft, and we'll see how revisions go. But I'm definitely thinking about Charles Dickens' pen.

How about you? Do you use the same computer for creative writing as you do for business and personal work? Do you sit at the same desk? Do you think this might be a problem? Or do you, like Charles Dickens, have a separation between pens/computers/creative writing and other writing purposes?


  1. I use a single computer.
    It is a problem. As well as the distractions of real life there are a whole world full a click of the mouse away.
    Sometimes I pull the plug from my modem.

  2. That's one reason (maybe the main one) why I prefer to write in a dedicated notebook using a pen. I don't have a special pen for it though. Hmm. Still five months to my birthday.

  3. Hi

    Oh the good ol days when penmanship mattered and desks had ink pots and quills (like Ann's blog!!!)

    Anyway!! My lines are so blurred I really don't know where all stops and all starts! I have at least ten things minimized on my pc (both home and at work) and try to prioritise and the order of prioritisation shifts - sometimes because I have to (work) or because I'm just bored already.


    I remember watching a programme about how writers work on the BBC and one was Jeffrey Archer. I'm not a big fan of his but he sticks in my mind because he just came across as incredibly fussy! Apparently he only writes with PENCILS and he had to have 4 pencils in a row and these pencils have to be a certain type and grade and have to be sharpened just so. I mean what was all that about?!?!

    Anyway! Good luck with your MS - can't wait to see and read the finished product (although this time, I won't be using Amazon...!)

    Take care

  4. Cripes, can you imagine trying to edit a manuscript written in pencil?!

    I have a desktop and a netbook, and about five different notebooks I write in (the paper kind, not electronic!). Honestly, I think I do the most writing in the notebooks because they don't have internet access.

  5. Great question. I have two computers. One is a desktop PC -- which is purely for non-work stuff. My laptop is a Mac -- and while I bought it for work, it creeps into everything else because I just like it better.

  6. Colette, my laptops have always been for writing writing. I would get them used, basically one laptop for each book. This last one is new, and yes, I like it so much it's creeping into everything else.

    SF, I may go back to paper writing. I always preferred it but now I"m used to the computer. Too used to it!

    Old Kitty, I like reading author biographies, and it's amazing how many of them have certain writing idiosycrasies like that. Makes me think if I'm going to be serious about this, and write a book a year, I need to get some idiosyncrasies.

    Miriam, a dedicated notebook hmm? I like that idea.

    Al, I'm with you. I am seeing it as a big problem. Considering a dedicated notebook like Miriam, only it would be a dedicated laptop notebook lol.

  7. Hi Karen, A thought provoking post, I do think there is something nice about writing in pen, think the speed of handwriting is just right for thinking, however, I do use the laptop a lot,
    Maybe we should take a leaf out of William Wordsworths book, I visited his cottage in England once. He had a stairs directly from his bedroom to the garden outside. He didnt want to have to pass through the domestic clutter, interfered with his creativity. Might try that with a ladder later.
    Happy writing
    ps have changed my blog to:

  8. I have desktop and laptop computers and I've got used to using any and all of them as time permits. Also a phone with a teeny-weeny keyboard and if all else fails a notebook and pencil. I find I can use any computer/pen that happens to be available really - it's finding the time and peace that are the tricky things, not the tools.

  9. Brigid, many of the great authors put distance between domesticity and creativity. Dickens & Twain both had writing cottages separate from their homes but on the property. JK Rowling would check into a hotel. I've been looking into this. Maybe writing in the hotel lobby since I can't afford to check into a room lol.

    Simon, Oh the powers of concentration. I envy you. I'm much too easily distracted!

  10. Argh! My comment disappeared. Google doesn't like my account. Anyway, I know of authors who use the Neo by AlphaSmart for the no distraction factor. It's basically a word processor with a USB download port so you can transfer your file to your computer when you're done. It only shows a few lines at a time so I think it's mainly for getting that first draft down.

  11. It's also much cheaper than a laptop--less than $200.

  12. I have a desktop and so does my husband. We share an old clunky laptop when we travel. So I use one computer for everything. However, when I make the first editing pass on each draft, I do it on hard copy. And I have one pen I use just for that. So maybe that makes me somewhat selective, too.

  13. Carol, Sounds like you're in good company! Since Dickens was the JK Rowling of his era.

    Kate, good suggestion, thanks! I'll check into that. Does it come in pink?

  14. I used to write my letters only with a fountain pen. They looked nicer that way, but then I lost the pen and had to use a ball pen. And then I got a computer and I love it that I can insert whole parts or correct things without crossing them out. So I do like my one (and only) computer, but letters to older people I still write with a pen. Most people love it when they find a hand-written letter in their mailbox.

  15. I have certain pens' I use for writing. They have to feel comfortable. I write in pen first then I put my handwritten piece on the computer. This is when it gets it's first edit. The computer is really a storage unit and editing tool for me. As well as blog reading, blog commenting, email and business tool. Give me a pen, a pad of paper and my kitchen table.

  16. I have one computer for everything but I have a schedule that I follow. Early mornings, blogs/mail/comments. Baby in school, WIP. After lunch, blogs. 2pm on the dot, back to WIP until 4. Dinner/frivolity/bath time. 8:30 final blog check.

    I used to have a special pen to write longhand. Of course I've lost in the move but I won't write with anything but a fine tip.

  17. I use one computer, but I change locations. I use my office just for writing and my sofa for internet/ blogging/ email. Works for me!

  18. I have to use the same computer for everything, but it doesn't give me too much trouble. I mostly write while sitting in bed because I have to be at a weird angle to write (was in a car accident a couple years ago, and sustained typing makes my hands howl bloody murder). I can see how separating the two would be productive, though.

  19. I buy a new laptop for each new manuscript. I'm just kidding. Actually, I began writing seriously almost five years ago, and I already had the laptop I'm typing on right now. This laptop has been with me for everything I've written creatively or business-like, as well as blogging or e-mailing (Unless I count two times that it had to be repaired, but then all documents were transferred back over).

    When this laptop dies, I'll miss it.

  20. I can only afford one computer. Hehe. When I'm on the first draft of a MS, I hand write it with wooden pencils from my mom's place of work. Not sure why, but it worked really well for my first novel. When the second draft comes around, that's when I hit Word. I think separating my writing from my internet-ing has definitely helped me to just focus on the work when it's time to work and just focus on goofing off when it's time to goof off.

  21. It took me ages to adapt to my desktop keyboard the last time I changed job - I'd been working on my own laptop before and the keys just sent completely different signals up my fingers!

    I've *just about* acclimatised to it now... which is just as well, since I'm going to have to do another book on it...

  22. Actually I have nothing to say except that I find all these comments interesting, seeing the ways everyone writes. But i wanted to get one more comment here just to see if I could get 23 lol!

  23. Gulp, *blush*, I write with ink and paper. I have now moved onto a method with yWriter that is working for me.

    I transfer ms onto my laptop and edit each chapter as I go. Then I edit the ink work, type in and change,doing edit two on laptop. I was 'surprised by how many 'inko's' I make ;0. I then catch the typo's. I find my work flows from brain to paper far easier than to a screen.
    The ink pen is kinder to my thumb and wrist, I tend to press too hard with ball point.

    I enjoyed my visit.

  24. I'm just getting into blogging. This is fun. So fun I could spend all my time reading blogs and never write another word. If I want to write I can't do this. And since I'm turning 70 this year (I still feel only 40 or less!) and although I've published small stuff, In the Mirror is my first (to be) published novel! I don't have a lot of TIME left to write another one, and maybe another. Perhaps I have a good decade, perhaps longer, to do this if my brain stays intact! I was ink and quills in the Fifties when I grew up. Had to be because there were no computers, only typewriters. But typing a manuscript took so much time, and as I said I don't have that much time left! I love the computer for writing--so easy to cut and paste and correct--and I get impatient now with longhand. Too slow (though I do outline by hand). I just have to limit my time on the Internet! The information highway. Too much information can be mind numbing . . .

  25. I use a single computer.
    But, there was a long time there when I wrote everything long hand. And when I did that, each story had its on notebook that nothing else was allowed to go in. But I used the same pens for everything.
    I guess what I'm saying is, I can see Dickens's point, but I'm not ready to drink his kool-aid, as it were.