My low-tech laptop.

February 15, 2007

A quick reminder – Booklovers’ weekend at the Ocean Lodge is coming up! There’s an article about it here.

News flash and a huge, huge thank you to readers–The Winter Lodge is on the New York Times Bestseller list , Publishers Weekly and the USA Today list. On to our regularly-scheduled program….

I write the first drafts of my novels by hand. I’m just as particular about the paper as I am about the ink. I use only a Clairefontaine notebook–wire-bound, graph ruled–and peacock blue ink, which has lamentably been replaced by “turquoise.” The pastel-tinted paper is thick, with a silky writing surface, and putting the words down is a meditation and a pleasure for whole minutes at a time (I’m not one of those writers blessed with effortless first drafts). In French, the notebooks are called “velin veloute,” a reference to the smooth texture of the paper.

 When I’m working on a book, I tend to drag this notebook around with me everywhere. When it’s not with me, I try to keep it in a safe place, like in the freezer. So if there’s a fire, it’ll survive. first draft

 The U.S. distributor put up a list of writers who use Clairefontaine notebooks, including yours truly, as well as the main character of Passing Through Paradise:

“Best selling author Susan Wiggs, in her recent novel, Passing through Paradise, devised a heroine who uses Clairefontaine tablets and peacock-blue ink. This is no surprise, since the author herself always writes her first drafts with a special fountain pen, peacock-blue ink, and, yes, Clairefontaine notebooks.”

 Author Anne Tyler once said that writing a book in longhand is like “knitting a book.” Maybe, but I don’t think that hard when I knit.

  • susan: I haven’t gotten to read any of your books yet but after the excerpt of “Dockside,” I am really excited about starting!! I’m a beginning writer myself, and like the idea of the Clairfontaines tablets for writing as I do a lot of writing in longhand. Also, have a little trouble with my own handwriting (as in reading it), but those tablets sound like they are really
    perfect for the job! Trying to learn about budgeting my time so I’ll get more writing in. Can’t sell it if it isn’t written! Anyone with any ideas on this, please contact me at my email address.

  • OMG! I LOVED Uwajimaya when I lived in Seattle!
    It has the coolest stuff.
    I have to figure out if anybody here in Honolulu sells Clairefontaines tablets.
    Otherwise it’s online I go…
    I gonna try this.

  • Lisa–there’s actually a shop in my town that carries Clairefontaines (definitely not an Office Depot) but there is such a broad selection that chances are, they don’t have the one I want. I did buy my daughter’s staff – ruled piano books there, to take to piano lessons. I think you’ll love this paper, though. It’s worth the trouble to find. In Seattle, there is a store called Uwajimaya (sp?) which sells paper goods from Japan — my daughter is nuts for it but it’s not as silky as the French.

    The bald Britney looks a bit like a teletubbie, IMO. Even without shaving my head, I know I would look like a teletubbie’s older, pudgier sister.

  • I went out yesterday looking for the Clairfontaine notebook and realized you can’t just pick them up at your local Office Depot. I guess I’ll pull out my credit card and just order them online like everyone else.

    OMG, Susan, can you imagine a picture of you (or any of us) bald on the back of a book cover? Geez, what a thought! There’s a reason God gave women hair, but I guess little Britney didn’t get that message. And since I really don’t remember the last time I cleaned my can opener, I guess now’s a good time to clean it!

  • Rosina – we are so pathetic with the credit cards. I just ordered the Book of Matches.

    Milady – You’re so very smart to back things up. I can’t seem to un-train myself from writing my books in long-hand. When I try to compose directly on the computer, I end up thinking Deep Thoughts like “When was the last time I cleaned the can opener?” or “What would *I* look like with a shaved head and tattoo?” and then I get nothing done.

    Thanks for stopping by, girls!

  • See, it’s the fire thing that gets me about writing by hand. At least with my PDA, I can save it to two different Memory Sticks, and then when I get home, it’s instantly backed up to my laptop, via which I email a copy to an email address I keep to backup things to.

    Unfortunately, I got the bug awhile back, and now I’m busily trying to find a purple notebook to match my pen and ink.

  • Swiggs! I had no idea you had joined the blogging nation. The first time I come by and you’ve already feeding my obsession with good paper. My credit card thanks you for an early Sunday morning workout.

    Confession: haven’t read your new one yet, but it’s near the top of the pile. I’ll nudge it up a step or two.

  • Wow, Alison, your blog is amazing. I got lost, looking at everything! Thanks for the link.

    All the graph-ruled notebooks I have seem to be tabbed. I buy both sizes–the 17x22cm size is so easy to drag around with me. Thanks for the peek at your work-in-progress. I’m impressed.

  • Susan – Do all the graph notebooks have the side tabs? I ordered 4 different styles of Clairefontaine notebooks recently (at Barb Samuel’s recommendation) but the colored graph sheets are tabbed. Not that it’s a big deal, I just wondered if there were graphs that were not.

    (I’ve got a post going up later today linking to you – – showing my current WIP which is not as pink and pretty as yours!)

  • boy, is that the truth. I’m supposed to be plotting out a book right now, decided to do a little research on the Peace Palace in The Hague…an hour later, I’ve done nothing but virtual tours.

    I think writing by hand forces you to be alone with the story.

  • You know, I consider myself somewhat of a computer geek so I figured it would be pretty easy for me to write my first draft on a computer. Not so. I find when I’m on the computer I’m easily distracted by wanting to check my emails or surf the internet. And then when there’s nothing left to check up on, I check the weather.

    Next thing I know, a couple hours have gone by and I’ve only written a measley paragraph. I was surprised to find in those same couple of hours, I could write pages in a notebook. So much for advanced technology. Go figure.

  • One glitsch in my process is that I read the handwritten ms to the computer with Dragon voice rec. software. Some of the recognition errors are incomprehensible, and then I have to go back to the handwritten and figure out what I meant to say. There are many roads to Oz, some longer than others.

  • I remember at the Surrey conference when you shared your writing process and I was so impressed. You really seem to be in touch with the story.

    I wrote my first 2 ms in long hand but I’ve discovered an awful truth; my handwriting is too poor to read even for me LOL.

  • I’m amazed, Susan. I didn’t know you wrote your first draft longhand! I swear I’m so slow compared to half the writers I speak to that it worries me. And I’m a perfectionist, so I just can’t seem to let loose and get it all down without grinding to a halt trying to make it 3rd draft quality right away. I so envy you, as I also envy Pat for writing so darned fast!!

  • Boy, that’s a good question. I think that’s one reason the paper and ink are so crucial. Writing on a Clairefontaine with a good pen is effortless. Although I have to say, I have a permanent callus since the age of 8. You must be an amazingly fast typist!

    I do write fast but sometimes not fast enough to “capture” the ideas that are coming to me. My handwritten drafts are filled with side notes and whole parallel stories in the margins – another reason I like the grid-ruled paper.

    Have you tried those “Dr Grip” pens with the squishy grip?

  • My mentor (Paul T.) says I am “hasty” I go too fast and has also suggested I re write sections of my first draft in longhand. He does everything in longhand first as you do…
    I try and it does really work – but my hand cramps so! Probably because I am trying to go as fast in my script as a computer! I press too hard. I get calluses on the sides of my fingers. I am in pain!
    How do you do it?

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