In case you’ve missed me, fear not – I’m home.
I’ll save you from scrolling down a few posts and let you know I left in the middle of July for a European jaunt (non-writers go on ‘trips’). We began in Barcelona, Spain (as opposed to the one in Cornwall, England, which, I imagine, gets appreciably fewer tourists). From there we boarded Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Spirit for twelve nights with stops in Toulon, France (with side trips to St. Tropez and Port Grimaud); Pisa, Florence, Rome, Naples (with tours of Pompeii and Sorrento, Mykanos – quite possibly my favourite; Istanbul, the ancient ruins of the city of Ephesus, Athens, where I broke my toe climbing the Acropolis but I’ve forgiven the Greeks; and disembarking in Venice. Exhausting yes, but a terrific trip nonetheless.
But this week’s column is not intended to be a travel piece.
Apart from the fact that I love Europe generally so I love the opportunity to go there (and will go for any reason if someone else is paying) one of my hopes about the trip is that it would inspire the muse and help break me from my writing slump on W3.doc, as I’ve taken to calling my as yet unnamed third Winston Patrick novel.
And…. It did.
I hesitate to say that I’m cured entirely; it’s been a bit slow since I’ve returned – more about that in a moment. But in the six months or so prior to our European venture I had written almost nothing of the new book and I produced a few thousand words while I was away this time.
It could be argued that travel itself provokes the muse and there may be some truth to that. That said, last summer we ventured on safari to South Africa and I barely scratched at the thing.
I think it’s Europe. Just as American intellectuals, writers, artists and thinkers were drawn to Europe in the early days of the new country and into the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see the excellent historian David McCullough’s book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris) something about Europe shakes loose the writer in me in a way no other location has yet to replicate. It could be argued I’m saying this as an excuse to make frequent journeys back to the Continent – and don’t get me wrong, I’d summer in Europe every year if I could afford it – but I actually believe the muse awakens among the relics and in some cases ruins of cultural and societal history that Europe provides.
The food and the wine don’t hurt either.
What may also have played a part in the increase in output is the mode in which I was operating: I was writing by hand. While it’s true I brought my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard with me, when I got there they more or less stayed packed. Instead, I wrote on a pad of lined paper and while the book is nowhere near finished, I did produce about forty pages by hand, roughly half that by the time I got it into the computer (which I just finished a week after coming home).
There may be something to this.
Researchers have apparently determined there is brain value to writing by hand that isn’t matched by writing directly on a computer. Writing in The Week, Chris Gayomali outlines four key benefits to writing by hand, two of which are germane to the topic at hand (no pun intended): many writers conclude they write better longhand and writing longhand prevents the types of distractions the computer can readily provide (who hasn’t procrastinated from writing – or any other kind of work – by surfing the net for an hour or two or six?).
I can’t say I’m necessarily a better writer when I write by hand, but I do find that ideas tend to grow on themselves more so on actual paper than on the digital variety. Many is the time I have been sitting in meetings of in which my interest was slight, at best, and found that while writing by hand I could generate a fair amount of work, more so than when I’ve had a laptop or iPad in front of me.
During our trip we had a good number of days on which we were on tour buses with an hour or so of driving time to our destinations. Though my handwriting faltered with the bumpiness of the bus, I frequently found myself whipping out the pad of paper pen (Pilot G2 is my new favourite) from my backpack and using the time fruitfully. It may be the relative ease and portability a pad of paper (I prefer a pad over a notebook – it’s probably not worth trying to figure out the psychology there) provides. I also found myself late at night when sleep was evading me (a characteristic I share with my protagonist) finding a table somewhere the ship’s deck or one of the bars and producing more so than I have in awhile.
And truth be told, it’s taken some time to get the handwritten work typed into the computer and I have not produced any new material while that’s been occurring. It may be that I convert to handwriting the book – something I actually did a fair amount of while writing Last Dance) at least as a means of keeping the output going until the muse finds her way just to my fingertips in front of the computer.
Either that or it’s back to Europe. I wonder if the publisher would pay?
Next week: thinking about the audio book.