The Power of the Pen

by Jennifer Delamere, @jendelamere

Got a tough scene to write? One that has you stumped? Step away from the computer! Enjoy the de-stressing freedom of writing with pen and paper.

That’s advice I picked up some years ago from another author. She told me whenever she was stuck, she would take pen and paper, sit in an easy chair, and just begin to jot down notes or ideas.

I remember the first time I tried this with my own writing and how liberating it was. Since then, I have used this method countless times to find my way into a scene. It loosens some part of my brain that can freeze up when I stare too long at a blank screen and blinking cursor.

I believe this mechanism works because it takes the pressure off. What I write doesn’t have to come out fully formed and perfect. In fact, it’s messy—and that’s the best part. Considering that I am a fairly well-organized in most other facets of my life, that’s probably why this escape valve is exactly what I need. It’s downright refreshing to scratch through a phrase, draw arrows between sentences, write sideways in the margins, and place little numbers in circles next to the paragraphs I want to reorder.

I begin by writing whatever scrap of the scene I think I know. The first thing I write down is generally not what ends up being first in the finished scene. But it was the “door” through which I entered the scene, took a look around, and got my bearings.

Sometimes, I don’t end up handwriting the complete scene. I might get a few paragraphs or a page into it, and then the scene blossoms in my head and I know where I’m going. At those times, I scurry back to the computer and dive in again with the pixels. It’s as though the handwriting has broken up a log jam in my mind.

I now buy a spiral-bound notebook for each book I write. I take it with me just about everywhere. Then I can spend odd free moments working on these scenes—during lunch break at my “day job,” waiting for an appointment or car maintenance, even in restaurants. I used to hate eating out alone and would avoid it whenever possible, to the point of skipping a meal or, if on a business trip, eating in my hotel room. Not having someone to interact with as I ate felt strange and awkward. Not anymore! I keep the notebook next to my plate. I think about the story as I eat and enjoy my food. And between bites, I write. It keeps my mind engaged so that I am not so self-conscious as I sit there. Now I actually look forward to times when I have to dine out alone!

Using pen and paper also makes it easier for me to write outside and enjoy the sunshine, breeze, birds chirping, and other sounds of nature. I recently read two different articles about how nature can be like a “reset” button for your brain. That makes sense to me. To be out in God’s creation and not in a man-made dwelling is refreshing to the soul. It is a visual reminder of God’s majesty and His limitless resources. He is the supplier of my every need—including inspiration at those times when I really need it.

A friend and I were talking about the benefits of getting out of the usual routine in order to gain a fresh outlook on a problem. She said, “Sometimes you just need to change your viewing and your doing.” For me, taking pen and paper to tackle a tough scene is a good example of that principle in action.

For a while it seemed there was a general concern that today’s children might not be taught handwriting because it’s not “needed” anymore. Now it appears handwriting is making a comeback. I’m glad, because aside from other problems it would cause, to be illiterate in reading and writing cursive would be to leave a vital tool for creativity undeveloped.

There have been numerous studies to research which part of the brain is engaged for handwriting vs. typing on a computer, and the ways in which handwriting can be more beneficial. I confess I haven’t read a lot of them. I just know it works.

Some may think this is extra work, to write the words down and then type them. But when I consider that I can stare at a computer screen for 45 minutes and at the end of that time I still haven’t figured out the scene (or worse, bail out of Word and slide over to a social media time-suck of choice), the handwriting method actually helps me get the book written faster. In 45 minutes, I can easily fill several pages with ideas, descriptions, and dialogue that will get me moving forward again. Besides, when typing up my scrawled notes, I polish as I go so it’s like writing a second draft. The adage that “all good writing is re-writing” is still true today, even in a world of computers and tight deadlines.

A few months ago, I came across an article detailing which types and brands of pens can help you write faster. That’s something I hadn’t thought of before. The pens I use are primarily the dollar-a-dozen kind, or the free ones from hotels and conferences. Whichever brand you use, the next time you are stuck on a scene or trying to resolve a plot problem, try a relaxing interlude with pen and paper. You may just find the secret way into your story that has been eluding you.

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The Captain’s Daughter

London, 1879

Forced to Leave All She Loves Behind, She Seeks a New Life in a City Bursting with Opportunity, But Fraught with Danger

When a series of circumstances beyond her control leaves Rosalyn Bernay alone and penniless in London, she chances upon a job backstage at a theater putting on the most popular show in the city. A talented musician and singer, she feels immediately at home and soon becomes enthralled with the idea of pursuing a career on the stage. That is, as long as the shadows from her past don’t catch up with her.

After a hand injury forces Nate Moran from his army regiment in India, he returns home to London, a place that holds bitter memories. He agrees to fill in temporarily as a stagehand while his brother recuperates from a broken leg, but Nate is counting down the days until he can rejoin his regiment. His future is decided–until he meets a beautiful woman who has found a new lease on life in the very place Nate yearns to leave behind.

Jennifer Delamere writes tales of the past…and new beginnings. Her novels set in Victorian England have won numerous accolades, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly and nomination for the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® award. Jennifer earned a B.A. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and has been an editor of nonfiction and educational materials for nearly two decades. She loves reading classics and histories, which she mines for the vivid details to bring to life the people and places in her books. A longtime resident of North Carolina, Jennifer can often be found hiking the mountains with her husband or planning their next travel adventure.