For the last three years, and the half-million or so words I’ve written in that time, I’ve usually just sat at a keyboard and typed. Even though I’m male, I can multi-task a little, like typing and thinking at the same time. And, most of the time the result has been acceptable enough. Now that I am revisiting a draft of my first novel, and since my eyes have been opened to the power of the premise in a story, I find I have to do some outlining and brainstorming.
And I can’t do it on a computer. I’ve tried to, believe me I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work for me. I think, and think, and think, and then poise my fingers over the keyboard and—nothing happens. I type a few words, a sentence, perhaps even two, then delete it all in disgust. I even tried doing it sitting in the garden with my notebook computer, and the same thing, a few words, then—delete.
Frustrated and despairing, I sat in the garden with a writing pad and a pencil and started doodling. There were circled words linked with arrows to obscure questions planted all over the page, and then another page. By page four I reviewed all the scribble and doodling and wrote it out in semi-coherent passages—and ideas began to gel and sound reasonable. Questions were answered.
Then I remembered what I did when I was writing the first draft of my second novel, I’d outline the next few scenes and plot-points on a whiteboard. It seems that for planning, I’m more a visual doodler than a point-form writer. And it works for me. You, on the other hand, may be completely different.
All that matters is that you search for the right tool for the job at hand. If it’s planning and you can’t do it doodling, try sticky-notes or a bulleted list in your favourite word processor, maybe even file cards. If it’s writing and you can’t think and type at the same time, write it out longhand on a pad, or even butcher’s paper. For some scenes, that’s what I do, I’ll write it out longhand and then transcribe it into the computer. Why? Because, if they’re complex scenes, I use the pad to brainstorm the scene, highlighting things like timing and emotional build-up. I can link it all together with a few joined circles and see if it works visually, then, as I type it into the story, I can add nuance and flavour.
So, if what you’re doing now seems like a chore and the words or ideas don’t want to flow, put down the tool you are using and pick up another and try that. Eventually, you’ll find the right tool for the job.