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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 I use only a Clairefontaine notebook–wire-bound, graph ruled–and peacock blue ink, which has lamentably been replaced by “turquoise.”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.

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  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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!!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!)

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. I am reading “Husband For Hire” right now. This was written back in 1999. What a lovely book to cheer me up during my recovery from hip surgery.
    Quitting smoking for this surgery was another thing I acccomplished. Reading Susan Wiggs’ book “Just Breathe” during that process was so helpful. One thing folks do not do is take a yoga breath to relax. Everytime I saw the words, “Just Breathe”, in this book; I took a deep breath which helped me relax.
    Thank you for your help. Barbara

  18. I read Twilight last year after reading several reviews that panned the book, author, writing, etc etc. I figured if it was such a cult hit – and quickly becoming a popular hit – I wanted to see for myself. I’m not the target audience, for sure. I actually enjoyed the book. Sure, it’s a fairy tale and will tell young girls it’s ok to have unrealistic expectations in a boyfriend (ok, stalker). But it’s a fairy tale. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty come to mind. Maybe it’s not a fairy tale to readers who love vampire books (which I don’t read, as a rule). My 20-something daughters read it and we discussed 🙂

  19. While my own work is set in the Regency era, I’m a huge contemporary fan and love Suzanne Brockmann’s work. When her last book released, I read a number of reviewers who did not like the direction her story took, yet I thought it was my favorite of all her books.

    If I’ve learned anything from this business, it is that not everyone is going to love everything. Yet, different tastes are what keeps the book industry filled with diverse publications:)

  20. Since I won a drawing already (I still can’t believe it!) I’m not writing this to enter. I’m writing this because it’s an issue that’s been close to my heart for years.

    I’ve always read genre fiction. Always. Mystery. Thriller. Sci-fi. I’m actually late to the Romance genre, having had a few snobby preconceptions about it. (My boyfriend’s mother, who was particularly mean to me, read romance all the time. I associated it with her and stayed away for years. Cutting off my nose to spite my face, I suppose.)

    I studied literature in college and therefore knew all the books you were Supposed To Read, the books you were to Let Everyone Else Know You Read and above all, The Books That Are Worthy Of Publication. It was frustrating because none of what I really liked to read generally made the cut. It struck me as weird because much of what is taught in Victorian literature classes was the Genre fiction of its day. If Dickens were writing today he’d probably be called Stephen King.

    It’s kind of ironic you bring this up now because my whole life changed when I studied literature in London for a semester. The man who was my professor there told me two things, one not germaine to this discussion. The other was that I should first and foremost love reading and READ WHAT NOURISHES ME. That advice changed my life in too many ways to go into here, but it’s probably some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He died a couple of days ago and has been particularly alive in my thoughts.

    So I read a lot and love a lot that the critics don’t like. Which is fine and dandy by me. A lot of what the critics like I loathe. (Anna Karenina, Sophie’s Choice). I feel the books I read and don’t like the ones which oppress my spirit. Neal Stephenson and Stephen King have been carrying the standard for pro-genre fiction for years now. Most of what I feel on the subject has been said handily by those two excellent men repeatedly. I don’t want to link it here, but I encourage anyone to google those topics if they want a refreshing read about how the books we are shamed about reading by the critics are actually more often the books with living merit.

    Not to suck up–really, I hate looking like a suckup–but no critically approved book (save Pillars of the Earth) has ever pulled me out of a funk or gotten me through a hard day or been something I looked forward to reading when my work was done. Every Susan Wiggs book I have ever picked up has been that for me. Which is why I like them.

  21. I don’t suppose it’s any different with books than with movies. Sometimes you’ll agree and sometimes you won’t. Our local paper’s former movie critic was kind of a ‘reverse barometer’ for us. If he hated it, we’d probably like it.

    I rarely read book reviews. I prefer looking at blurbs and excerpts to see if the writing resonates with me, or the story might be something I’d like. I didn’t like Harry Potter. Haven’t given a thought to Twilight.

    At one of the writing conferences I attend every year, it seems there’s a mention of ‘lousy book making a fortune selling a kazillion copies’ comment in numerous workshops given by many different writers.

  22. Good evening!
    What makes someone an expert on anything, especially when it comes to books and movies.
    To me a book is one where I can get lost in the characters and often find myself not wanting to put the book down until I’m done. We talk about people getting into the zone, that’s what happens to me with Susan’s books.
    The words draw me in, and I find myself holding my breathe when her characters find themselves in trouble. I love how Susan helps them find their way out of the conflicts that beset them.
    So often, her characters’ issues over-shadow my own that I’m able to escape the reality of life around me. Unfortunately, I have a tendancy to read Susan’s books fast, lol.
    All I can say is this, don’t let anyone steal your dream Susan. You are a special person, a gifted writer who brings joy, tears and a sense of connectivity between your stories and your readers.
    Susan, your readers will never let you down. We know the real thing and you are real.
    I know that you are just like the rest of us, a human being, but your writing is on another level.
    If you were to stop writing today, I would be sad but I would also treasure all of your books for the rest of my life.
    No, I’m not trying to suck up, I really mean what I say because from the time I was a child I’ve always read to learn more about the world that I knew I would never be part of.
    Thanks for letting me spout, lol

  23. I’m glad to hear that the Ghost….. movie is better than the reviews. I can’t say that any review ever made me read a book. Usually I hear about one from a friend or just find it while browsing. Such as right now I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society recommended by a close friend and her daughter. It’s written as letters.

    And….I have some favorite authors that have me wanting to read everything they’ve written, guess who one of them is! I can get so absorbed in the characters in your books, Susan, and usually write something down in my Quote Journal. I think the first book of yours I read was Table for Five and it was the cover art that drew my eye.

    The Shack has been so highly recommended and I hope to finish it someday, but the little girl is about my granddaughter’s age and I just can’t get past feeling so fearful about something happening to her.

    I, too, am excited to have been a winner.

  24. Some of my favorite quotes about critics ~ the last one is especially for you, Susan:

    Destouches, 1732: Criticism is easy, art is difficult.

    A critic is one who would have you write it, sign it, paint it, play it, or carve it as he would ~ if he could. (unknown)

    Lionel B. Fletcher: It is easy to shoot a skylark, but it is not so easy to produce its song.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Valley of Fear, 1914: Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.

    James Hillman
    A Soul’s Code: Maybe it takes genius to see genius.

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