Power of the Pen

NaNoWriMo Day 4 Word Count: 6,907

When the power was still out on November 1st, I was a little nervous that I’d get behind on NaNoWriMo. I’m not sure how long my laptop would hold its remaining charge, and typing is difficult with frosty fingers (and near impossible in mittens). And the thought of returning home along dark streets with downed branches and powerlines kept me from going out after dark to a public place that might have plugs I could use. Also, I was afraid I might not want to leave a warm coffee shop for my chilly home, and I didn’t want to leave my children with life-long negative opinions about coffee shops (“Mommy left one night to get some coffee, and she never came home…”).

I decided that I would start my novel the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.

It’s been a long time since I just let the pages fill under my pen and felt the satisfying weight of a notebook filled with my thoughts. I felt somewhat enthusiastic about the possibility of having this experience again. The idea of writing by candlelight in a chill, dark New England dwelling felt deliciously Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Then when the power came back on Tuesday night, my idea to write a novel longhand once again seemed like an unnecessary duplication of effort, and I scrapped the idea, leaving my brand-new notebooks and pens to gather dust on my desk as I typed away on my laptop.

I still write with a pen in my paper journal, and when I’m keeping up with my Morning Pages, I write those by hand (Julie Cameron pretty much insists upon that). Writing by hand feels more intimate than typing words onto a screen, and it inspires a different thought process for me than typing a first draft does. Writing by hand feels at the same time more permanent (I can just CTRL-A and delete everything if I’m typing, if I choose to) and less serious than typing. I use it when I don’t know what to say and I just need to think something out. I rarely write a full first draft by hand anymore. It’s just thoughts and notes.

I don’t think I could write a serious poem on the computer. Poetry is the kind of thing that demands that tactile connection between fingers and pen (or pencil) and paper. Also, I like to cross out and go back and rearrange things in a way that’s easier on paper.

Not that I’ve written much poetry in the past fifteen years or so. Just the silly verses I put in our holiday newsletters. I had one when I was pregnant with my first child that began, “Here I sit in early labor/I hope my moans don’t wake the neighbors.” I don’t remember the rest of it. It’s probably on some sheet of paper around here somewhere.

The other thing I write by hand are those thoughts that would look too stark in Times New Roman up on my computer screen. The secret, forbidden thoughts: the harsh judgments, the whining self-pity, and the strange inclinations upon which I never act. These are thoughts that are immediately followed with, “Oh, my! What would people think if they knew I’d thought something like that?”

My RV kick was this kind of thought for a long time. Until I had friends who sold everything and moved aboard their boat with their two kids, my desire to live in an RV seemed completely crazy. Now it just seems a little silly and kind of quirky, which makes it just the right kind of topic for a blog.

I let my fictional characters think the really strange things. They’re still technically my thoughts, but it helps if I can put the blame on someone I’ve made up.

Which seems really strange when I read it on the screen.


  1. Pingback: NaBloPoMo Prompt: When you are writing, do you prefer to use a pen or a computer? « Chopstick Lady
  2. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ · November 4, 2011

    I never thought about it, but I think you’re right about the pen and poetry. I’ve been wondering why I dropped writing poetry, knowing it was beyond having kids and being tired. Part of it may be moving to computer. It feels…unnatural for something so organic to spring fully formed from my head as it used to.

    As for pen v cursor. I’m about to write about that because I do both for blogging and for my book. It’s a huge pia to switch between the two, but it’s better than losing the words entirely to my sleep squunched brain.


    • CJ · November 4, 2011

      Thank you for commenting, Zoie. I forgot to mention that I wrote a lot by hand when my son was a newborn. I didn’t have a laptop then and I found it was easy (ish) to write in a notebook while he snuggled next to me in bed. My writing wasn’t always legible, but at least I was writing. I’ve not moved any of it to the computer, but it was good to do at the time.


  3. Melanie Meadors · November 4, 2011

    NaNo is not going as well for me this year as it has in the past. The cold beginning kind of blew things a bit, and now, I seem to be facing this… thing. Too many expectations, I guess. I find myself unable to just let go and write.

    You sound like you are on a roll though, good for you! Hopefully something will give me a jolt and I will catch up. I need my inner editor to meet his demise somehow.


    • CJ · November 4, 2011

      I feel like I spend my writing time with my fingers in my ears going, “la, la, la!” to drown out the inner critic. Maybe the distractions are actually helping me. This morning I got up before the kids but then the cat meowed until he woke them up. I tried everything (gentle) I could think of to shut him up. So, I don’t know about a roll. I just get up in the morning and refuse to give up until I’ve got my word count. And I try not to think about the novel as the day goes on.


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