Sketch Me a Story

I write longhand. Yes, with a sketch pad and a rollerball pen. When I get into my zone and write thousands of words at a sitting, I get callouses from the pen rubbing on my fingers.

Typewriters were once the writing instrument of choice. Think Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams. Even today, some writers choose a typewriter rather than a computer. Think Larry McMurtry, poet Maya Angelou, Danielle Steel. (That’s not me in the picture. I think it’s Agatha Christie.)

typewriter writer

Although I’ve never used a typewriter for writing fiction, the idea prompts feeling of nostalgia — writers long ago, solitarily pounding out stories.

When I began delving into writing fiction a few years ago, I wrote on my laptop. The advice I googled online and found in books about the craft of writing went something like this: “Write as fast as you can, get it all out, and then go back and fix it.” Sounded right.

I rose every morning at 5 am, another suggestion I found. I’m a night owl, yet I groggily sat at my laptop and spewed out the words to my story, all the while devouring online writing advice, most of which made no sense to me.

I wrote ferociously, and it took me 3 months to finish my novel. Then, per more advice, I set it aside for a month. What a sense of accomplishment. I had written a novel! It was 120,000 words.


Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash

When I brought it back out to “fix it”, I couldn’t. It was crap. The writing was awful, and it needed to be completely rewritten. Spewing didn’t work; I needed to figure out what did work.

The early mornings, unfortunately, remain the best time for me to write. I wake up thinking about my characters and before the day’s activities and distractions start, I sit down and write.

I also recognized that I needed to write more slowly, more thoughtfully. As I looked over my writing, I kept going back to a scene I had written one evening while laying in bed watching TV. I had been compelled to write, so I grabbed a notebook – an actual paper notebook – and pen, and I wrote. It was good, and it made me realize that I feel more creative with a pen and pad of paper. I write thoughtfully, creatively, slowly. I contemplate each sentence and each word.blank sketchpad

In what I can only label divine inspiration, I bought a sketchpad. No margins, no lines, just blank paper. This, too, makes me feel creative. After all, writing is a craft, something it took a while for me to understand.

When I took my first cross-country, overnight train trip last year, I went armed with my writing sketchbook. As we traveled through the Rocky Mountains, I sat in the observation car and attempted to capture the view and the feelings the scenery invoked. I took pictures, but mostly I wrote:

I wake as the day brightens. The train’s motion, coupled with the choo-choo sound of the wheels, had rocked me to sleep like a newborn in a cradle. Out the window of our sleeper I see snow-covered foothills of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Thick clouds hang low and I hope for snow.

Foothills give way to boulder-strewn mountainsides while antelope graze in the plain, the white tufts on their heads the giveaway to this city girl. Boulders and smaller rocks sit on top of and next to each other, reminding me of totem poles and Indians and the Wild West. Higher mountains in the distance show gradations of browns and oranges, and rivers and tributaries traverse the countryside.


We cross into Colorado, another mountain range filling the windows, this one with rock walls going straight up and topped with copious pine trees. I can only imagine the size of the pine cones.

Snow begins to fall, coating the mountainsides and rail side scrubs. The wind picks up, creating eddies of snow, simulating tornadoes, swirling, swirling and breaking apart. The Colorado River is frozen here, having transformed from running rapids.

We cross into Iowa and see endless fields of corn and grain, the stalks swaying in the wind. Field after field, neat row after neat row, acres and acres of crops. The phrase “amber waves of grain” repeats in my mind, and I’m grateful we haven’t paved the entire countryside and built cities.

I’m going on another train trip in a couple months. The first things on my packing list: A 200-page sketch pad and 4 rollerball pens, black.

Tell me what writing method you use – Laptop? Typewriter? Pencil and paper? I’m curious if other writers have experimented with different tools. What facilitates your creativity?





17 Responses to Sketch Me a Story

  1. Your writing intrigues me and draws me in, holding me there until I am filled with the wonder of your words. I so relate to Sketch Me A Story, as I too write all my work longhand. I use a 2 subject
    , college ruled notebook and a Pilot G2 gel pen, bold, for all my poetry. There is something magical in writing everything longhand. Yes, it takes me longer and is more work, but when I finally type it onto WordPress, I can also go through my editing process, etc. I also read my poems out loud to make sure the rhythm is there.


  2. Shelley says:

    I enjoyed your words of wisdom. I might try an unlined book, after reading your post, you’ve intrigued me. For my blog, I’ve been writing daily via the computer. Then I picked up The Artist’s Way and have been sold on writing The Morning Pages (3) long-hand every day. Like you described, my words seem to connect better by writing the pen to paper. The Morning Pages clear out the clutter and make it easier to write my blog posts. But I definitely adore the ease of editing on the computer versus paper. I have limited time, so I write my blog posts right into the WordPress editor and publish right from there. Blogging is different from writing a novel, though. Happy Writing to you!


  3. Thanks for following my blog! I am so excited to know someone who also writes in longhand! I must write all my first drafts in cursive in a three-ring binder on college rule paper. I can not write straight out of my imagination onto a computer screen. I prefer black ink, too, but will write with pen or pencil if I need to.


  4. Nice to meet you as well! I’m sure there are more of us out there. Happy writing. 🙂


  5. Great post! I like sketch pads for writing, too, when I first get my ideas. Then sometimes I go to lined paper as I work out the ideas. Once I have a first rough draft, I put it on my laptop, and do the rest of the drafts and the final draft.


  6. When writing at home, I use my computer and keyboard. But when I’m writing away from home (and in the creative writing classes I teach), I use a notebook and pen and really find this the best way to be creative. I should do this at home also!


    • Oh, you teach creative writing. That sounds like fun. If the students are college age, I bet they all use a laptop or notebook computer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, my classes are adults the ages of 20 to 90. Usually it’s the 50 somethings that come with the laptop! But laptops make noise when someone’s clacking away, and after a few classes, even the techies leave their laptops behind and just use paper and pen.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on The Message Pub and commented:

    I am re-posting my second favorite post from one year ago when I first rebranded my blog. My previous post was my all-time favorite. Next time, I’ll post something new. I hope you enjoy this one.


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