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Writing about Writing

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

I love pens, especially the thrill of buying a new one. In fact, I love stationary of any sort and stepping into a stationer is a real treat for me - kid in a candy store comes to mind. (I may actually write a post on stationers, there's so much to say!) This affection for pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks and all associated paraphernalia has been with me since I was very young and runs deep in our family. My mother loved a good pen and had amazing penmanship, as do my sisters and nieces. My middle sister Catherine bought me my first fountain pen when I was eleven years old. It was a Parker Jotter, the barrel was dark red with blue ink. It was exactly like her own navy one, and it made me feel very grown up. It wrote beautifully and I wish I had kept it safe enough to use it today.

I could get all geeky here about different pens I use to write with and how one of my favourites at the moment is a Kaweco Skyline Classic Sport fountain pen, in navy with gold embossing, a gold medium nib and black ink, but I thought I would share a bit about my actual writing process instead.

The reason I mention pens, is that I find real joy in the physicality of writing itself. In terms of writing, a notebook is where it all starts. And one notebook is never enough! One for my blog ideas, another for the book I'm writing, and I've just bought a new lilac soft bound A5 beauty from Paperchase to use for all my other ideas, musings and notes from books etc. Choosing a notebook is a serious business, and I can spend a very long time deciding on 'the one', pouring over the important details of paper weight, line thickness, cover and colour.

The act of writing with a pen on paper is very satisfying: time slows down, there are no pings, notifications or click bait to distract me and it is a very singular task. I will write in one of my notebooks at least once a day. I have another notebook in my bedside drawer as a journal. I find writing in a diary, with numbered days too stressful - there is too much expectation placed on me to write every day and I feel like I’ve failed if I missed a day, and so, I give up altogether, with the empty days on the page staring back at me in disappointment! So, a lined notebook, where I can write freely, without pressure and put my own dates in as and when I wish works so much better.

Whilst I put all my ideas, thoughts and outlines on paper in a notebook, I actually write all my drafts straight into a Word Doc. I like to type as the words flow and will write a lot in one go, then read and re-read until I am happy with the final edit. I enjoy the immediacy of pressing delete and having a spell checker and thesaurus to hand. There is an urgency to the way I write, I empty myself out onto the screen first, typing quickly, before the words escape, and then once anchored on the page, I can slow my pace and allow the patterns to emerge and the story to develop through the editing.

Words are very important, and they don't always come easily. I have times when I feel clunky and heavy in my writing - the dots are not joining up and it feels like hard work. It is like looking for a coin in the sand, the more I keep digging, the harder the words are to find. At times like these I have to stop and physically remove myself from the screen. I usually stretch, make a drink, stare out of the window or, better still, go for a walk. The act of moving my body releases tension, eases my mind and frees up ideas - when I return to my laptop, the words seem to flow more smoothly, as though they have been set free by physical movement and fresh air.

I write at all times of the day. I would love to say I block off time, early in the morning, after yoga and breakfast, before the kids get up and when the house is quiet. But, no, that is not my reality at all. Yes, I prioritise my writing, making it an important part of my day, but it happens in snatches of 30 minutes here or an hour there. I prefer to write with no distraction, without background noise, and in a quiet room, but again, waiting for the conditions to be perfect would result in nothing being written. Being flexible and open, knowing something has been put on the page, no matter how little, is more valuable and is progress in my eyes.

Working with others, listening to their stories and relaying their words is a privilege as a writer. Maintaining authenticity in this process is very important to me. The interviews I have had the pleasure of doing for my book have been a good lesson in using, or not using, technology to speed up the writing process. I started using the dictate button to automatically transcribe the interview, and at first, I thought this was a great time saving tool. But after a few interviews, I found the act of listening, typing, stopping and starting, and listening again, helped me process the information more thoroughly and honestly. So, I am cautious about short cuts and taking the easy route. Certain technologies can help the process, whilst others, to me, feel superficial and reduce the authenticity of the craft.

Today, as I sit here and write this and press publish, it may only be read by a handful of people. But this is not the driving force behind why I do what I do, it is not for a following, or acclaim, or recognition. It is simply for the pure joy of capturing words, making sense of my thoughts and putting these onto a page. Ultimately, it is the sheer enjoyment of the whole writing process, beyond anything else, that lights me up. Like a treasure I have finally found and take pleasure in everyday, my writing is no longer hidden away in a cupboard or drawer, but out in the open for me to experience each day. It doesn't have to be perfect; it is all the better for its imperfections and honesty, those precious moments captured, and the fleeting sentences quickly scribbled down.

If you have just read this, thank you for being here, I fully and sincerely appreciate you taking time out of your day to read my words. I hope that my blog brings enjoyment, reflecting my own love and passion for arranging words on a page. For more on my writing you can subscribe here, and visit @iamsarahalexcarter

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