Friday, July 20, 2007

Writer Ugly Part 2

Steve and Candice have each posted on the problems and possibilities of the ugly first draft. Clearly, how “ugly” one can go depends quite a bit on an individual writer’s personality. Candice was wondering if some of her productivity while writing longhand comes from not being able to “rework” a page as easily as if it were on the computer, which forces her to “move on.” This made me wonder if there were any way to get this effect on a computer, and I have a couple of possibilities to throw out.

First, something I’ve done myself for experimentation purposes is to turn the color of my font to white on a white background. This prevents even the possibility of reading and correcting while I’m writing. Certainly there will be some spelling errors (teh anyone?), but as long as you make sure to start with your fingers on the right keys you won’t get gibberish. Once you’ve finished a section you just do select all and turn the font black.

Second, Lana has a font that she downloaded from the web which changes English words into Viking runes. There are also fonts on my computer that change words into symbols. What if you wrote in either a runic or symbols font, then used select all to turn the words back into an English font? I tried writing this post in the symbol font and found that I actually knew when I’d misspelled a word, because my fingers would tell me. I’d just backspace to take out the word and go on. But trying to edit such a work to correct wording would be impossible. For some reason, typing the symbols didn’t always work because when I turned it back to English words there were sections that didn’t translate. I have no idea why. The runes worked fine, though.

The easiest thing for me was to write white on white. And this paragraph was written that way. I simply found myself looking more at the keyboard while I composed than looking at the computer screen, although staring off into space would probably have been just as effective.

I’m not sure either of these mechanical aids to writing ugly will be helpful to anyone here, but it seemed worth a post. At times they might be quite inconvenient, if you were doing a lot of plotting as you wrote. But they might work if you were really focused on simply getting a draft of some scene down. I also suspect they might be more helpful to newer writers rather than those who have already developed the writing habit and are used to how we “do things.”

By the way, Writer Ugly refers, of course, to the writer whose first draft is so ugly you’d rather pull your eyes out rather than read it. (With apologies to the phrase “Coyote Ugly.”)


Erik Donald France said...

Charles, very cool ideas. And an excellent point about the writer's personality/style.

Writing in runes or in white on white? How cool! Now, where's my decoder?

JR's Thumbprints said...

I never tried this; next time I'm in free write mode, or working on some dialogue for a particular character, I'm going to try it. Good suggestion!

Bernita said...

White on white?
Wouldn't a blindfold work just as well?

cs harris said...

Oh, God. To let go the control to that extent? I think I'd start hyperventilating.

Shauna Roberts said...

There's also the AlphaSmart keyboard, which one can take into another room and be away from the distractions of the dictionary and the Internet. It does show a few lines of type (the number depending on which model you have), but so few that editing on it is unpleasant and I don't know anyone who actually does so.

AvDB said...

Coyote Ugly is like Coyote Gnaw. That's when you wake up in the morning to view the person you came home with and would rather chew off your arm than wake them to extract it.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

I just got finished writing about this same theme on my blog, oddly enough, and Shauna pointed me in this direction.

I have to expect and allow myself to go through some "false starts" when I write. Many of my scenes(all of which are in black on white to keep me sane)go through several creations. Not rewrites; in a rewrite you change what you've already got. No, when I write myself into a corner, I go back and take a whole 'nother fork in the story road and see if I can keep going from there.

Steve Malley said...

Like CS, I've been writing my latest longhand.

I also have a 70 year old Remington manual typewriter I bang away at when the ease and convenience of the laptop becomes neither easy nor convenient...

Sidney said...

It's not quite the same thing, but I have on occasion unplugged my computer from the web so that I can't get bogged down browsing Google to fill in some minor detail that can be researched later.

It's great to have tools at hand to help get the little things right but they shouldn't slow down writing, and they can for me if I'm not careful

the walking man said...

I must just be stupid or something because i can't see any point in trying to edit an incomplete work no matter how long it is. Get the whole thing down then start over when you know how it's going to end.

Why do you have to have all the complexities of a story or article in mind, why not start out with the first word and don't change anything until you get to the last word? Then go back to the first word and make everything between word one and word final fit?

Does everyone here know their ending before it happens on the page? Personally I never do.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, JR, I think it's worth a try.

Bernita, I think I'd find a blindfold more constricting but maybe others wouldn't.

Candice, remember that control is only a myth, only a myth.

Shauna, yes, that sounds like a good possibility too.

Avery, yep, it's somehow connected to the bar by that name but I'm not sure how.

Roz, thanks for stopping by. I visited your blog as well. Good to hear from you.

Steve, I've got an old underwood but I never really use it anymore. Fingers are growing...weak.

Sid, that's a subject for a whole post, methinks, not letting yourself get distracted by the net.

Walking man, sometimes I know the ending, sometimes not. With novels I usually have a pretty good idea of the general ending at least.

the walking man said...

Charles try one without having any preconceptions except the first line, and go from there.

Danny Tagalog said...

It's interesting to hear from the minds of dedicated creativge writers and I often wonder whether foregoing ink on paper is foolish. White on white!? Well, I'm unsure I'd be able to cope with that

Michelle's Spell said...


You always have such great ideas! Anything to help with the horrors of the empty page -- and my first drafts are so bad, I could weep sometimes!

Lisa said...

These are great ideas and this is a problem I (a newbie writer) seem to wrestle with quite a bit. As ridiculous as it sounds, I recently heard the term, "pre-writing" and it completely liberated my from thinking I was writing a first draft. Just that terminology gave me the permission I needed to give myself to free write within my draft and also to skip forward and write scenes and parts of scenes without necessarily feeling like I have to complete each one before moving on. I just found Razored Zen and this is really great. Thank you Charles.