Think On Paper

by ryankl

I read a great newsletter recently which linked me to a great article that I think was paraphrasing another great writer’s quote, which was:
Think on paper.
And I could not agree more.
I love digital citizenry, I work in Google Docs, I have lists on Keep, I’ve got apps for one thing, and extensions for another.
But there is merit to the thinking that we think differently on paper. Our brains work better, I believe, with the open wild canvas of pristine paper. Or not pristine, gnarled up old napkins, grid paper in a notebook. Whatever works for you, but I think when I step back from the internet machine, and I just pencil in thoughts and words and connections and questions, my brain opens up more.
Which is why I plot in a notebook.
But I think subconsciously I thought I’d get “better” at it, it would come quicker, the story would only take two iterations in a notebook to come together.
It hasn’t.
I still make pages and pages of notes. I still write the synopsis out a dozen times, in different formats – sometimes a linear blurt of events, sometimes broken into subheadings of issue numbers, and sometimes in character columns.
This is how my brain pieces it all together. I have to think “out loud,” as it were, on the page. Then I can ask myself stupid questions, and scribble things out, but still keep one eye on them, and draw lines between things and add question marks when I’m not certain.
I’ll eventually form it all into boxes, one per issue, and all the pertinent info is there to then beat up a page by page breakdown, but that thinking process, I have to trust in it. It feels laborious, I’m going through pencils like it’s a bad habit, but it’s my path to wherever my stories end up.
Getting better at this doesn’t mean getting the story right and completed in the first draft of the plot.
Hell, getting better probably means more pages, making it better, over more time, and asking more dumb questions.
I’m not going to get faster, but I can hopefully get better. So that first plot outline I attempt, man, it’s just the wire framework. The hard work hasn’t even begun, and if I remember that, I won’t feel like a failure, and I won’t stress as much, and I’ll go in a little looser. We should always stretch before vigorous plotting, and it’s okay to get loose.

Looking above, this post isn’t amazing, I typed it straight into the online box, there was no thinking on paper. But I can’t get you to subscribe to what I pencil into my notebooks [though with a rocket journal, maybe that could work…hrmm?] so I guess this’ll have to do.

These types of thoughts usually also appear in my newsletter, give it a sub for weekly thoughts about writing, and the writing life, if that’s your jam.

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