Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thinking on the Keyboard

Scott D. Parker

In the excellent book, The Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer, Erle Stanley Gardner comments that he trained himself to think on the typewriter. This quote came earlier in the book when the authors were recounting his pre-Perry Mason career. What Gardner was referring to was that his prodigious pace meant he had little time to waste figuring out the plot of a story. He had to produce new content. By the time he started writing novels—The Case of the Velvet Claws was not only the first Perry Mason novel but Gardner’s first published novel—he realized that some work ahead of time was a good thing. To use modern parlance, he went from a pantser to a plotter.

Around the time Gardner started doing some pre-planning, he also started dictating. Not too sure of the timing there, but that’s the gist I get from the book. I’ve been training myself on dictating this spring and I discovered an interesting thing: as of now in my writing career, I think better on the keyboard vs. dictation.

Earlier this week, I hit a snag on the current WIP, a western tentatively titled Dead Men Can't Cheat. I hit a snag on a scene that was important, but I was struggling at how to flesh it out. Standing in my writing room, PC turned on, and microphone right next to my mouth, I struggled to form the scene. It was weird. When I know exactly what happens in a scene, the dictation just flies. But there I was, stuck.

When I’m planning a story, I often use yellow legal pads and index cards. That is, pen and paper. That ‘downgrade’ often clears the brain and helps me see the story better. I got to wondering if a ‘downgrade’ from dictation might help.

So, I fired up the Mac—yeah, I use different computers for different things, but that’s mainly because Dragon on the PC is stellar and Dragon on the Mac is less so—and started typing the scene. Viola! It flowed and the scene successfully ended.

Dictation is defiantly a learned skill. I will keep at it because I know the pace with dictation is just faster than by typing. But I’ve also learned that when I hit a wall, until I can dictate my way through it, I’ll just do what Gardner did and think on the keyboard.

Anyone else have this issue? Other than writing longhand with pen and paper, are there other techniques y’all use to get over the hump?

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