Writing around challenges

Sarah spoke about one kind of challenge yesterday. I’m facing an entirely different kind – after many, many years with relatively unchecked access to the internet and my external brains (the – alas, finally deceased – PDA, the tablet, the cell phone, the kindle, the flash drive with all my writing files on it, the Eee…. you get the picture) I’ve got work with a company that is not primarily a programming place (It’s primarily data entry and printing out checks. Lots of checks. Payroll processing.) and is very strict (aka paranoid) about letting anything capable of data transfer into their systems.

That means no cell phones in the building. No tablet. No kindle. No flash drive. No PDA. No CDs. No DVDs. If I want music I need to bring in a separate player (that can’t take USB input or anything other than “play a disc”). Also, no instant messaging (not even internally – which is really weird for me. Everywhere I’ve worked has used IM for communicating among co-workers. Not here), no social ANYTHING on the internet. Hell, I went looking for long names and names that used diacriticals for some testing, and those sites were blocked. I’m having withdrawal symptoms (but I’m enjoying what I’ve seen of the job so far, so not too bad).

Of course, this also means that I can’t write on the computer at work. No flash drive to save it to (no anything else external, either, and cloud stuff is right out). So I’ve taken to carrying a notepad with me, and scribbling – longhand – bits and snippets of the current WIP when I get a bit of loose time during the day. It’s… different. I haven’t written longhand since I got my first computer 15 years go. I type faster than I can write these days, and my typing is a hell of a lot easier to read. My handwriting is… interesting. It needs interpretation more than reading. More than that, though, I can’t write for long. The muscles in my hands are so out of practice that after a quarter of an hour or so, I start to cramp.

Weirdly, this is actually helping. I write a kind of sketchy not-even-first-draft that doesn’t so much get transcribed as it gets used as a framework to hang the real first draft on when I put the day’s scribble into the computer at home. There’s not much wordage going in, but there’s progress and it’s not bad. So that particular challenge seems to have been accepted.

Next challenge – keep at it so I can write for longer before my hands start giving me hell.


  1. Yikes! You might look into something like an AlphaSmart. They might be acceptable to the company. No input except the keyboard.

    On the other hand, if the handwriting is putting you back in touch with old creative habits . . .

  2. If you find yourself gripping the pen too tightly, and are not a southpaw, try using a cheap, disposable fountain pen. I find that fountain pens force me to keep a looser grip, so I don’t get the aching wrist and cramped hand. My handwriting also improves, but that’s just a side benefit. Just remember to keep another pen around if you need to sign legal documents or write checks, since fountain pen ink is water based and can be rinsed or washed off.

    1. I’m about as left-handed as it’s possible to get – but I can write with a fountain pen (I’ve got a strong backslant). It’s mostly being out of practice.

  3. Welcome to my world. The current work in progress demands that the first draft be written by hand. After each chapter, I can then transcribe it. Fortunately, it now lets me dictate into the digital recorder which is then hooked up with Dragon. I say fortunately because my handwriting is atrocious! But you’re right. There does seem to be some sort of new “connect” with the creative spark doing it this way. Good luck and I am so glad you’re liking the job so far.

    1. At least you can dictate! A digital recorder wouldn’t be allowed there – it really is that tight. Fortunately they can’t ban pen and paper, and it wouldn’t take much to figure out that what I”m writing ain’t anything they need to worry about.

      I think the format shift is what does it – it bypasses whatever bad habits have built up.

      1. Yes, but the dictation only comes after the handwritten chapter. Now, if you had a driver, you could dictate while being driving home. Then just sit back, plug it into your computer and play with the kittehs while Dragon does its job ;-p

        1. Heh. Since what I type in only vaguely resembles what I hand write, it seems to be working. Got close to 1k words in today.

  4. I wound up doing a good bit of longhand last semester, and it does “feel” different. I am much happier typing, but since you don’t have that option, play with this one. And yes, your muscles will rebuild with time and exercise.

    1. I figured they would. After untold years when handwriting was something reserved for signing checks and forms, I’m a wee bit out of practice. It’ll come back to me.

      1. Small suggestion. Try a Dr. Grip or similar fat pen. I have trouble with my hands if I use a normal skinny pen, but the fat one I have which is a Pilot lets me write longer.

  5. This would be a really interesting detail in a science fiction story… this pocket of non-connection. Ramp up the usual connection to e-glasses (or whatever they’re called) and ubiquitous information flow and the pocket of non-connection might feel like it’s less real or even entirely fake.

    My husband’s work has what they call the Bat Cave that is isolated and you have to leave your phone outside and everything else. Most of their sensitive work, though, is done “on site” for whatever client. Still, it sort of ruined the big plot device for Skyfall for him, because really *anyone* involved in secure computer systems wouldn’t have made the “pivotal mistake.”

    1. Oh yes. It would feel so completely wrong to someone who’s used to instant and always on connectivity.

      It’s sounds like a good thing I never saw Skyfall 🙂

    2. Tech and Bat Caves: A grad-school friend of mine got an award from [three letter agency] for an article he wrote. When he went to collect his award, his host warned him to leave anything electronic in his car or hotel room, because their security system would toast it otherwise. Friend asked if they sold a smaller model for installation in classrooms and his minder got a big grin and replied, “no, but a lot of people seem interested in buying one.”

  6. I love the smoothness of the Zebra gel pens – anything else gets really tiring. Turns out their refills don’t last that long, so I buy refills over the net from a business supply company that doesn’t charge for shipping if I get enough of them at a time – and the handwriting is much easier.

    The big stores like BJs have packages of 6-7 Zebra pens + 6-7 refills for a reasonable price to get you started.

    When you’re pushing a pen to get the words out, it is easier if you don’t have to also fight the ink.

    1. I must try those. Or get the fountain pens working again – those were really nice to write with back in my early college days before I got a computer. Cheap fountain pens with cartridges or refillable inserts. I got really good with those after a while – although I always had ink stains on my hands….

      1. The bottom end of the Lamy fountain pen line seems to offer nice nibs at sane prices. The very bottom end of the Parker line can be very nice too, but the nibs are sort of hit or miss.

        Search jetpens.com for Lamy, for example…

        Noodler’s ink may be overkill but it’s nice overkill and a bottle lasts a long time. Their bulletproof inks do a nice job of lasting as long as the paper does – and are not removable from cotton clothing either. I wish they’d been around back when I was fighting with india ink in technical pens.

        1. Nice! My old Parkers are the bottom end – they cost about $20 back in the late 80s and are still nice pens. That Jetpens site is nice. It’s way too long since I indulged in pen geekery.

  7. The place I work has the same restrictions on data storage devices, so I’ve been hand writing in notebooks when work is slow as well. My handwriting is archaic to say the least. I’m pretty sure only I can interpret it, and sometimes even I have to read something two or three times to figure out what the hell I was writing. Still, it’s better than nothing. I keep note pads on my all the time anyway to jot down ideas. I actually hand wrote the rough drafts for two entire short stories recently in notebooks. Typing it in later is the bane of my existance,however so I’ll probably invest in a speech to text program like Dragon at some point. Amanda has mentioned to me on a few occasions that hers works well.

    1. I was most of the way through a nice long comment when one of the cats walked across my keyboard. Including the backspace key… Le sigh.

      Anyway, the typing I don’t mind. I don’t like the sound of my voice, and I really don’t like talking to my computer when someone can hear me so the Dragon route is unlikely.

      1. I HATE talking to my computer, but I got Dragon to read a bunch of old stories I had around in various forms of hardcopy (including handwritten) into the computer. In reality I found that while Dragon would work better for me if I was strictly dictating, since it can do its own punctuaction (admittedly sometimes its punctuation decisions are wierd) I don’t do well dictating out of my head. For reading hardcopy into the computer the free dictation program that comes with Windows works just as well, if not better than Dragon. You just have to remember to tell it, “comma,” when you want a , and “period”, “new Paragraph”, etc.

        Right now I have about 20 pages of handwritten stuff I wrote last week while away from any tech or electricity I need to read into the computer, but I’m screwing around on the internet instead of getting it done 🙂

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