My favorite thing about going back to school was always buying new notebooks. I loved finding the one with the smoothest, softest paper to go along with my new pack of black Pentel fine-point pens. Ten years after high school, I still head to the stores when the bright colored “back to school” bins come out and pick out the perfect notebook. (And a new pack of pens. Seriously, try them out. You’ll never buy another type of pen.)
What is it about a new notebook? Is it the feel of a soft, yet firm stack of smooth paper that gives ever so slightly as you press down with a pen or pencil tip? Or is it the sound of the ink pen scrawling across the paper with the complimentary whisper of one’s hand sliding back and forth beneath the newly written words?
For me, it’s all of that and more. I love the feel of paper. I love the sound of my pen scratching it, and I love watching the black squiggles appear one after the other. I love to pause and look at how I write. The ability to cross things out. To be able to go back and observe the past process my mind took to create something. To be able to write new ideas above old ideas, draw arrows to illustrate where I want an addition or edit to go. To me, the stack of blank pages waiting to be filled is exciting and motivating, a complete contrast to the daunting and stifling never-ending whiteness that glares at me from a computer screen. When I pause and think with a pen in my hand, there is no blinking cursor ticking seconds away, waiting for me to pick up my line of thoughts and start typing again. Unlike on computer screens, there are no distractions on a notebook page. No icons to open up a program or a social media page. It’s just me and my paper, and my pen, and eventually, a sore hand.
But, the pain is worth it.
The other day when I packed light and left my computer at home and grabbed a notebook instead, I began to wonder why I like the pen and paper method of writing even though I have a computer and the skills to use it. Anything I want to share with the world has to be typed at some point, so why waste time writing it out first? And am I the only one that often prefers a notebook to a computer screen?
As I sat next to my friend, who was also writing in her own notebook, making plans for her stationery and card-making business, I knew I couldn’t be the only one.
As I thought more about it, I recalled a NaNoWriMo meetup writing session last year. I went and wrote in the company of strangers, and I took a notebook because I didn’t want to be distracted, and I wasn’t sure how much space I’d have. Or if I’d have access to an outlet in case my computer died on me. Notebooks never run out of batteries. Once seated at a table, I noticed that another writer had her own notebook, too. She said she hand-writes all of her stories. I kick myself now for not thinking to ask why. Handwriting whole novels is quite an impressive feat. I hand write some pages of stories I am working on, but I usually type majority of my drafts. Still I wonder, is one way better than the other?
Before I delve into a little bit of science (yes, there is a research element to this post), I tried to determine if I write differently than I type and if my brain works differently when I write or type. There are a couple things that stand out when I reflect on how I feel when I use a pen versus when I use a keyboard.
In addition to the physical joys of holding a pen in my hand as I skip across the page and leave black marks everywhere, I do believe that I become immersed more deeply in the story or article I am writing when I hand write the draft. Most people are faster typers than they are writers. I probably am too, but I make a lot of mistakes, and I am constantly correcting them, backspacing phrases and ideas and fixing grammar as I type. When I write, and I write quickly, I can forgive my errors, knowing that I’ll correct them later. There are no red or green or blue squiggly lines that appear as I write to alert me that there is an error in need of correcting. I also feel that everything is a bit more seamless when I am writing by hand. I hardly sense when I pause and play a scene out in my head. The words my inner voice calls out to my hand to spell out are loud and clear and the visions in my head are vivid. Sometimes when I’m typing, it feels like what I am imagining is further away. It’s not as easy to drown out the outside world and let the scenes in my mind take over when I type compared to when I write. But that’s just me. What do the scientists say?
While I couldn’t find scientific research done on the benefits of writing or typing for creative writing (and I’ll admit, I didn’t try to dig too deep into that topic; if you find some studies, please share), I did find reports and articles on how writing is beneficial for note-taking and memory. Here are some of the top reasons that physically writing things out is more beneficial than typing:
Writing forces you to be selective and helps you recall more things. Because most people write more slowly than they can type, when one writes notes, they have to pick and choose what they write down to remember later. If you can’t write down everything from a lecture, you will probably be paying more attention to the content of the information, because if you have to use the information later, you’ll have to rely on your memory in addition to your notes. Contrast that to being able to type everything you hear, you don’t have to absorb words at the time you hear them because you know you’ll have everything that was said later. In one study, students who took handwritten notes performed better when asked to recall the information.
Writing is a tactile activity and helps you learn. The act of using a pen or pencil helps create a physical memory, which helps information sink in more completely. It is similar to the idea of “learning by doing.” One study done at the University of Marsaille found that different parts of the brain are activated when trying to read letters of a foreign alphabet that were learned by writing compared to those learned by typing. And the memories made by writing were stronger than those made by typing.
Writing stimulates neurons in the brain. Much like the ever-popular wellness activities of meditation and yoga, writing can help you relax and affects the brain much like these mind and body exercises. Mainly because it helps you slow down and engage more completely in the process of creating something. It can also help cognitive development, according to a study done at Indiana University.
Let’s see which is more popular: writing things by hand or typing them. Participate in a short survey to let us know what you prefer and why. We’ll share the results in a later blog post.
Simply put, "exposition" is an explanation of an idea. In writing terms, exposition is anything that gives details or background information about characters and events that have happened or are happening. Figuring out the right balance of exposition in a story is difficult but is a crucial part of developing as a writer and can separate the experienced writers from the inexperienced.
In fantasy writing especially, I think writers feel the need to explain their world as much as possible, and as early as possible. But, too much explanation, or exposition, about the world can take away from the reader's ability to truly become immersed in and experience the world the writer has created in their own way.
If a writer goes into too much detail and over-explains elements of their story, they risk doing too much telling and not enough showing. "Show don't tell" was one of the first things I was told to do in every one of my creative writing classes. A quote by Anton Chekhov says it best: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass."
It's easy to think that as a writer, you need to tell your audience everything you know, but it often is not necessary to tell your reader everything, and especially not all at once. It is important for you as the writer to decide what information is necessary for your reader to know and then determine how best to provide that information.
If you're a writer, trust in your storytelling.
Oftentimes, the long paragraphs of exposition can be told in different ways that help move the story forward instead of putting it on pause or keeping it from actually starting. I wrote a novel in high school that had three prologues. Three! Years later, when I decided to begin the revision process, I cut them all out. I decided they did nothing for the story and could easily be explained later in the novel through dialogue or a flashback or something of that nature that could help with character development.
A history lesson in the first chapter of a novel is a lot less compelling than a character getting into a debate with someone about what really happened all those years ago, or a character crying as they recount the death of a loved one. Suck your reader into your world by showing it to them. Walk them through the streets of a city through the eyes of a character. Let them hear conversations, lighthearted or judgmental, to show how the people interact with each other. Have a character exhibit a behavior instead of telling your reader what kind of person they are. Give your reader the crucial bits of information you deem absolutely necessary, but also give them the opportunity to interpret what they see. Allow them to explore and experience the world and characters you created.
In Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel by James Scott Bell, the key points regarding exposition he lists are: "(1) Exposition is information the reader needs. It will slow your story down if not handled well. (2) Always cut what isn't necessary. (3) Drop exposition in a little at a time. (4) 'Hide' exposition within dialogue."
Bell's points are an excellent summary. Exposition is necessary, but think critically about what information is truly imperative to provide and how it is included in your story. Let your creativity flow; write a story filled with complex characters and vivid scenery, not a history filled with biographies and country origins.
Image by Jonny Lindner.
The idea of starting a publishing company had been percolating in my mind for years, and when I finally decided to take the leap into starting the business, I realized that there was a lot to figure out. Not just how it would all work, but also what sort of "brand" I wanted to create, and of course, what the name of the company would be.
Just like many people are advised to do what they love, I knew that I should create a business that would be special to me and not tailor it to what others think it should be. If I was going to be successful, I had to love what I was doing.
I asked myself to think carefully about what I cared about in the world and how that might pertain to my business. I thought about what kind of company I wanted to create, and I realized that what I truly cared for (in addition to books) was nature and the environment. I wanted my company to be environmentally-friendly in as many ways as possible. So, it made sense to try to come up with a name to reflect that.
Trees are magnificent organisms and an obvious image to turn to as a symbol of nature and a publishing company. I tried to choose a tree that would represent my business, but it seemed that all the best tree names had been taken, if not by another small press, by some other business. I tried combinations of earthy words like mountain, rock, wood, and different colors. Black Mountain Press. Rockwood Press. Red Rock. Greenwood. Nothing sounded right. And nothing felt authentic. Then, I considered the wolf, my favorite animal, but there already was a Greywolf Press. I contemplated trying to use its scientific name, Canis lupis, but if I used the genus, people might think the name had to do with cannabis. And if I used the species that it had to do with a disease. Neither would work.
I tried to think more creatively about what else could be used to help capture the spirit of being environmentally-friendly and offer something that could be turned into a name and logo. And then it came to me: the honeybee. An insect that has captured my interest and love and one that means so much to the world.
Apis mellifera is the scientific name of the European honeybee, and still thinking about using a scientific name, I borrowed the genus, Apis, to create the title of my company.
The honeybee is crucial to human survival. Some researchers estimate that one in every three bites of food we eat is because of the work of honeybees. They pollinate the food we eat and the food our food eats.
Egyptians revered honeybees and were some of the earliest beekeepers. According to an article from HistoryToday.com about Gene Kritsky's book The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt, "Beekeeping and the products of the hive were deeply embedded in Egyptian culture. The culinary and magical properties of honey were recognised, as they are today; honey was the only source of sweetness in ancient times."
More recently, a study at the University of California - San Diego reported that honeybees "are the world's most important single species of pollinator in natural ecosystems and a key contributor to natural ecosystem functions." They found that "one out of eight interactions between a non-agricultural plant and a pollinator is carried out by the honey bee," and that's a lot considering the thousands of other pollinators in the world.
The honeybee has become part of our global ecosystem and is crucial to the survival of many plants throughout the world. It is only fitting for Apis Books, a business that cares deeply for the health of the planet, to use the image of a creature that helps secure its future.
Apis \ ˈā-pəs \ noun
1. A bee.