Writing By Hand: Too Much Work? Let me convince you…

Friends!

Thanks for joining me on virtual retreat last month as I scouted Spain (more on that soon!) and gathered with a small group of writers in southern France for an inspiring week of rest, rejuvenation, and radical creativity. And if you were following along, some very interesting discussions happened along the way, including foreign languages, beauty in decay, topless beaches (!) and one that I want to talk more about here: writing by hand. 

I’m not talking about writing by hand only to capture your inner chatter or to clear your mind or to know yourself. All things I highly recommend and consider a necessary part of a creative life. I’m talking about actual creative drafting. The actual idea. The first draft. By hand. 

I would not be exaggerating if I said 99% of my first drafts happen on paper. For me, the computer is for sculpting and editing, but the genesis of the idea is a delicate spark that happens in the quiet of the page, the intimacy of pen tip to paper. Like a first kiss that happens over and over and over each time the notebook opens.

(some of my notebook’s recent adventures)

In Going Short I talk about re-writing drafts from scratch when I’m searching for the right words or rhythm and I just can’t seem to “edit” myself there. But what I failed to mention is that I also do this by hand. Switching to the notebook, especially when stuck, can jar you back into the creative flow for many reasons including: 

Location independence. You can write anywhere—at the restaurant, under the backyard tree. On the park bench. At the DMV.  On the train. Even in bed—honestly many of my ideas come first thing in the morning while I’m in bed. Before my eyes have fully sharpened out of sleep, as coffee is just waking up my system, I find it easier to harness the dream world on a raft of paper and pen.

By hand. Handmade. We slow down when we write by hand. In the stillness we feel the pen and ink, the crinkle of pages, the loops of our own words unspooling across the white. It is a tactile experience that shifts the way our brain connects to syntax and activates a more intuitive part of the brain. I find that different sorts of ideas arrive in the notebook than to the screen, or at least a different version of those ideas, often already in conversation with each other. (I worked with a wonderful writer recently who “found” her character’s distinct voice when she moved to the written page.)

Evading the critic. When I write by hand my critic is less….critical. Since the work is not typed up and in TIMES NEW ROMAN, it feels more like play. And that’s the trick: if you can fool yourself into believing what you are writing (by hand) doesn’t count, then you relax. You start to have fun. You follow tangents. You get silly/messy/weird/beautiful….brilliant. You take creative risks that feel too intimidating on the official screen, in the official font. And in taking those risks…you often find your truth. You go deeper.

(As an interesting aside, when I’m journaling my handwriting is neat and lovely and legible. But when The Muse descends and I’m actually drafting the idea on the page my handwriting becomes wild, a gallop, a sprint—looping and furious, barely legible even to me. It’s almost as if two different hands, two different minds are at work.)

An organic second draft. Another wonderful thing happens when you write by hand: you eventually have to type the (good) stuff up. Therefore, what came out unhindered and unrestricted gets an organic first edit just in the typing-up process. (This is different than editing WHILE writing–which I never recommend. You are now sculpting. Second draft. Different process. Different hat.)

SO…

If you or your writing is feeling stuck, or you’re needing an inspiration boost, or the blue light of the screen or the ergonomic familiarity of your office chair feels lackluster—try walking away. Grab a notebook and go to bed. Or to the living room. Or to the porch swing. And yes, to the café or in the park. 

Take the question, or problem, or idea to the page like a devotion. Lay it on the altar of paper and pen and allow the answers to come through your hand.

Love,

Nancy

P.S. And if that wasn’t enough,SUMMER 2022 FLASH FICTION RETREATS will be opening soon with TWO exciting destinations (any guesses where?)
Sign up here for Notifications and First Access:

Traveling as a Writer: The Only Question You Need to Ask

You already know I love to travel. AND you probably know I interpret travel very loosely. Yes, I love sitting in a sidewalk café on a gorgeous sunny day with my notebook! (Yes, please!) But I also love driving alone across Nebraska, meditating on corn, clouds, and cows. I love to travel one town over and lock myself away for the weekend in a cheap hotel, diving deeply into my work (and you should try it if you never have!) Regardless of the destination, I’m always traveling as a writer. 

Not all travel is created equal for inspiration. What I’ve discovered is the best writing comes from travel that has a tiny bit of adventure—a little bit of the unknown mixed with a little mystery splashed with a little danger.

Not DANGER danger. Of course.

Just the danger of: I have no idea what to expect…and I’m going for it.

Maybe you’re traveling somewhere brand new. Maybe you’re traveling alone for the first time. Maybe you haven’t mapped out your itinerary and you’re going to “wing it” for a whole day (yes, do this!). Maybe you’re going spelunking or snorkeling or horseback riding along the central American coast (swoon!). Or maybe you’re spending the evening taking slow-motion videos of the summer carnival in your own home town.

No matter where you are you can always be an artist.

Back when I first fell in love with Hemingway, it was both his writing and his contagious curiosity about the world. His life wasan adventure!  Or at least it seemed that way. Whether he was in exotic Paris, Africa, or Cuba, or closer to home in Michigan or Idaho—it was all inspiration. It all ended up in his work. 

Influenced by Hem, I decided I would make it my goal to lead an interesting life. To say yes as much as possible. And over the decades this mindset has become second nature to me, a guiding principle in many of my life decisions. When I’m faced with possibilities, or difficulties, or uncertainties, I ask myself this very important question:

Will it make a good story?

Actually, this is a great question to ask all the time, whether you’re traveling or not.  But if you ask it while traveling specifically…you will begin to follow the road less taken. You will veer away from the crowds and down the quiet side streets…and into your next story.

Because new ideas come when we invite the unknown into our lives. They come from walking the dirt roads through local villages instead of taking the car, going to the wild beaches instead of the tourist hot spots.  They come from talking to a stranger in a strange city in a train station you will never see again.

When you travel as a writer, your heart intentionally open to revelation in all its many guises, you will be just as excited to soak up the muse whether you’re on a solo retreat or a family vacation, whether you’re in Hawaii or Omaha.

So, as you travel or consider traveling again, I invite you to travel as a writer. Whether you engage with your scheduled travel more creatively, make simple travel more inspiring, or decide to go on a future retreat with me (!) remember that as artists we are always on the clock.

And what a beautiful clock it is.


How to Travel as A Writer Wherever You Go

  1. Embrace Novelty: take risks. Eat the new food, walk the new street.
  2. Reflect on Normal: With distance, we can better see our regular lives. Away from our hometowns, we finally have perspective enough to write on what we take for granted.
  3. Carry a notebook. Writing in a notebook is also a fantastic companion when eating alone at a restaurant. (P.S.—try eating alone in a restaurant)
  4. Engage conversations with locals and strangers—real conversations. Meaningful and memorable ones.
  5. Take walks, ride bikes, and take bus/metro/train rides with no destination and no schedule. Public transportation is much more interesting. Walk whenever you can.
  6. Make art that doesn’t count. Carry a camera or a sketchpad (or a harmonica!). Engage that sense of play that comes from making art outside of your preferred genre.
  7. Remember your job: artists show us beauty and frame experiences—everything is inspiring if you want to see it that way.
  8. Create chunks of headspace to go deeper. Travel alone if you never have. (Yes, do this! More than half my travels are alone.)
  9. Make a point to see/engage with many kinds of art: museums, music, community culture (I recently went to a carnival and took photographs)
  10. Meet other writers: there is no better inspiration than surrounding yourself with other creatives.
  11. Learn some new words. Seriously. Learning a language is good for your brain, but as writers it reminds us of the plethora of new words out there.
  12. Put away the phone and step away from the internet. Look up and watch the real world go by in all its beautiful glory.

Happy Travels!

xoxo Nanc


Want to travel and write together in 2022?
New Retreat Opening Monday!

FRIENDS! Are you feeling ready to reconnect and recommit to your writing? To commune with your fellow artists again? Do you need a dose of adventure and a jolt of inspiration?

We’ve found just the place for you!

Kathy Fish and I will begin opening up our first flash fiction adventure of 2022 on Monday, July 26! These retreats sell out quickly so get first access below:

Photo by Lindsay Loucel on Unsplash

Yes, I’m interested! Put me on the list for information and first access!

Ten Flash Fiction Tips for the Flash Curious on Creative Indie

Are you flash curious?

by Nancy Stohlman

Read the full article on Creative Indie

An excerpt:

There’s a revolution happening in literature: writers are going short.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve already heard of flash fiction, those tiny, compressed stories flourishing in the literary underground. Writers and readers are falling in love with the form and discovering something delightful and poignant in these small spaces.

Originally called sudden fiction, microfiction, nanofiction, or short shorts, flash fictions are ultra-compressed stories following only two rules: they must be under 1,000 words and they must tell a story. The result is a miniature narrative that creates an entire story experience in just a few well-placed brushstrokes. And the stories, far from trivial or lazy, have their finger on a new kind of urgency.Carving away the excess, flash fiction puts the short story through a literary dehydrator, leaving the meat without the fat.

This is an exciting time to be a flash fiction writer.In my book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, I explore how flash fiction has successfully broken the old story out of its skin and transformed it, cultivating not only a new kind of story but also a new kind of writer.  

So, whether you are flash curious or a flash veteran, here are 10 of my best tips as you embark on (or continue) your flash fiction journey.

1. Become a beginner. This goes for any new artistic endeavor, but if you’re a poet, or a novelist, or even new to writing, embrace the glory of being a beginner. There will be an adjustment period, and that’s good! It’s so much easier to take risks and lower expectations. And when expectations are lowered, the real beginner’s magic can slip through the back door. Allow yourself the possibility of creative play—and creative discoveries.

2. Respect flash fiction as its own form. Flash fiction is not the bunny slope to something harder. It is not easier or less powerful or less profound just because it’s small. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. The bonsai tree is a marvel in miniature, requiring an entirely different set of skills. And just as learning from other genres can strengthen your existing work, learning from flash fiction will make you a better writer, regardless of your preferred genre.

3. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s flash fiction. A lot of things are short—vignettes, character sketches, prose poetry. These may overlap with flash fiction, but they aren’t interchangeable. Prose poetry is a poem using sentences. Flash fiction is a compressed story with a narrative arc and movement. When in doubt, see rule #2

4. Don’t try to butcher a longer piece and pass it off as flash fiction. You might be able to pull this off one or twice (I did), but it’s a little bit like adding line breaks to a story and calling it poetry. Ultimately you want to start seeing the world through a flash fiction lens, noticing the potential for stories everywhere and honing your radar for great flash material.

5. The word limit matters. At first you might feel like you are battling the word limit. Eventually you will realize the word limit is the necessary container that allows the magic to happen. Without constraints, the story can expands in all directions like an amoeba. Strategically pushing against the constraints, the story realizes itself as flash fiction. Once you embrace the constraint as a vital part of the process, it won’t be an issue.

KEEP READING HERE

The Seasons of the Creative Process

I’ve said for years there are few things I trust more than the creative process. The sun rises, the sun sets, the tides go in and out, and the creative process ebbs and flows…and ebbs and flows again.

I share this now, at the dawn of spring, because it can be tempting to take a snapshot of the creative process rather than seeing it as a continuum. When we are deep in winter here in Colorado, I take solace knowing that the Earth inevitably turns, and winter will soon be followed by spring. And conversely, when I am deep in the luxury of summer, I try to remember that it, too, will not last. 

It can be helpful, if you plan to have a long, creative life, to view your process like this. To roll with the changing seasons of our art. Periods of furious creation are followed by a slowing down as we recuperate. And those fallow periods are followed by new sparks and new creative discoveries…if we remain patient and trust the process. The key in any season is to embrace that cycles come and go. When we are in the creative mania stages, it can be hard to remember winter is coming. And when we are fallow, we may not recognize the new seeds germinating.

The more times you go through this process, the more you will start to trust that every season will retreat…and eventually return.

This cyclical nature is especially important when you are feeling creative FOMO (fear of missing out) or artistic jealousy. Your creativity is turning, always, but so is everyone else’s…on different cycles. Someone might be doing a lot of publishing outwardly, but behind the scenes they’re fallow. Someone else may feel insecure that they haven’t published lately, but they’re writing a masterpiece behind the scenes. 

Bottom line: It’s counterproductive to compare July to January. Instead, wherever you are in your creative process, remember you are turning and spinning, facing and retreating from the sun over and over. 

If you wait long enough, it will always be summer. 

To your beautiful, flowering creativity,

xoxoxo

Nancy

P.S. Speaking of seasons…are you ready for a flash fiction retreat in Iceland’s darkness? Early access to registration opens tomorrow!