I would never have even attempted to write something as long as a novel in the days before the PC brought us WordPerfect and WordStar. I look back at some of the things I did in the 70’s and I see a massive mess of crossing out, looping and arrowing, and scribbling between lines and in margins. My peripatetic tendency to ramble, reshuffle and rewrite moored me to the shallow waters of column and technical writing. This is not to put down those types of endeavors; rather, it’s to celebrate our predecessors who composed with quills and ink and lead, on vellum and in notebooks.
John Steinbeck, for instance, wrote in a series of blue-lined 10-3/4 x 14” notebooks, his favorite tool a Mongol 2-3/8 F pencil. When he created East of Eden, he kept a daily journal in his notebooks. On one side he’d “warm up” with his thoughts of the day, and on the opposite page he laid down the words that became this marvelous work. Here’s what he said about the pencil.
My choice of pencils lies now between the black Calculator stolen from Fox Films and this Mongol 2-3/4 F which is quite black and holds its point well-much better than the Fox pencils. I will get six more or maybe four more dozen of them for my pencil tray. And this is all I’m going to do on this my first day of work.
Employing this combination of notebook and pencil he completed the first draft in ten months. Amazing.
Charles Dickens novels were the outgrowth of a series of installments for literary journals. To keep the story line organized, he kept notes. I found this description about his methods.
The working notes took the form of “plan sheets” for each installment. In these he worked forward and backward in planning the whole novel. He followed the following procedure:
taking a sheet of approximately 7″ x 9″ of (pale blue) paper, he folded it at the long side horizontally in half, which he then opened, using the left half to make notes about ideas for future developments: things having to do with planning and decision making, writing queries to himself about which options to take, what character to kill when, tags and motifs, about names, alternate possibilities in story development, etc. Often, he answered such queries later a laconic “Yes,” “No,” “Not yet,” “Consider for next number,” etc. (http://takingnotenow.blogspot.com/2011/12/charles-dickens-plan-sheets.html)
The lesson these two greats offer is you don’t need MS Word; you need to think, plan, organize, think again, make notes, develop your characters, and think again. Then write.
It’s a lesson lost on me.