on writing

Writ large

Originally uploaded by jon.swanson

I suppose I should say, writing on. I was working on a sermon today, writing the key ideas, when I realized that I was working on a notepad that is actually a sketchpad 18 by 24 inches. I’m realizing that I am writing on bigger spaces these days, trying to show visual relationships between ideas.

My most frequent notepad for meetings is an 11 by 17 sketch pad. Recently, I laid it on the table in a meeting and one of the other people said, “You know, they make laptops about that size these days.” Sitting next to someone with a laptop/tablet, I realized that they were about the same size and that he could actually capture his information. I felt totally retro…and didn’t mind a bit.

If you were watching my twitter yesterday, you noticed that I was in a meeting in a room which had no whiteboard but which had a wall of windows. I grabbed a wet-erase pen from the car and started helping us visually shape the core values of a new loose association.

This week I also wrote in a spiral notebook, on CD and DVDs, on five different keyboards, a real whiteboard, and on my desktop blotter.

I am trying to decide whether I am graphically ADD (truly) or that I think so visually that I am having to write and draw my ideas on whatever surface I can find.

This is not a new manifestation. I wrote the core argument of a chapter of my dissertation on a chalkboard as a mindmap, though I didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time. And I almost never actually draw, but I do look at the clusters of words in visual relationships.

I’m more confused these days because of the multiple places I am writing (flickr, zoho, google docs, multiple email accounts, twitter) and I wonder if that’s why I use big paper when writing in the physical world. Somehow, perhaps, I need to be very tangible.

So how do you write? or better, where do you write? Must it always be with the same pen or keyboard? Is there only one kind of notebook? Or are you as chaotic as I am, needing to put the words and ideas somewhere, the bigger, the more edgy the better? Have you written on a window recently? Do you have to have the room just so or can you write anywhere? And if it depends on what you are writing, tell me what the differences are.

And now, back to the sermon. Somehow, I need to have it on smaller paper. The top of the pulpit is only 11 by 17.


12 responses to “on writing

  1. I know that you don’t think that I write anymore, but here’s a recent list of where:

    Post its, my Blackberry, my laptop with google docs and Word, straight to wordpress, your comment area, a pile of yellow legal pads, the journal next to my bed….and the other day I wrote something on a gum wrapper.

    Holy cow, what am I doing?

    You know Jon, in the back of my mind I knew what I was doing. Thanks for affording me the opportunity to articulate my dysfunctional writing approach.

    I’m a mess.

  2. I am a recovering haphazard writer.

    I almost always write down things I want/need to remember–it is a huge stress-reducer, to know something is written down and I don’t have to hold it on the front burner of my brain. The key, though, is to remember where I wrote it.

    I used to jot things–dates, book titles, quotes, appointments, ideas I wanted to connect later on, sermon notes, original thoughts…imagine that!!!–down anywhere I could grab a piece of paper. But I spent so much time later looking for what I’d written down, that I was nominated for the presidency of Counterproductives United! So, I’ve tried to be more systematic: There is a little notebook by the phone for info that comes through that medium. Sticky notes by the computer and phone help get info where it needs to go (e.g. a phone message for one of the inhabitants of our upstairs always ends up on a sticky note stuck to the stairway door). I have places for certain written info to end up–an envelope for the slips of paper with those jotted down book titles, a file folder for my own bits of writing that I intend to come back to, a file folder for notes or ideas for lessons I might teach or talks I might give, a particular notebook for a couple of different kidscussion groups I am part of, sermon notes I really want to keep in my journal, etc. And those are not kept in the far-away filing cabinet but on a convenient shelf or in a desk basket.

    I will always, I think, prefer pen/pencil and paper to computer for most writing. I am partial to spiral notebooks and loose leaf college rule notebook paper. I do use the computer increasingly, though, in place of phone conversations–much more efficient and, for me, a better way to articulate.

    I write best in solitude. I prefer a plain old lead pencil with an eraser to mechanical pencils and am particularly fond of PeperMate stick pens (purple ink for fun, black for the more mundane.) I buy PaperMate pencils as well, because they are inexpensive but have good erasers. I prefer chalkboards to white boards when I am teaching–yellow chalk preferred over white…..I see a pattern here. I am terribly behind the times…but then, whose times are we talking about?

    One other thing that comes into play in this discussion, at least for me: I do not prefer to learn to use every communication tool that’s out there. My kids laugh at me because of it. But if what I use works, I can’t see the point of complicating my life with MORE just because I can. Anybody care to convince me of the need? (I know someone will make the argument for communicating in the medium people are most likely to read…that is why I blog….huge move for me, that was.

  3. Great to read your latest thoughts, Jon.

    I’m reading in Belgium – visiting my sister. (My family visiting hers.)

    You’re on the cutting edge of visualizing thoughts – paper or not. I use a Mac, when I have a choice. (Now it’s a Dutch Windows keyboard, which is about 5 steps removed from my preferrred reality.)

    Be blessed today.

  4. This discussion reminds me of the practice of writing ‘morning pages’ (part of the Artist’s Way practices described in the book by Julia Cameron). The idea is to write several pages first thing every morning, in longhand, stream-of-consciousness style. Not editing as you go, not thinking too much about what you’re writing. While I was taking a class and reading the book I wrote faithfully every morning for several months, and it was an amazing feeling–so freeing–to simply write, not “for” anyone. You’re not even supposed to read back over what you’ve written until weeks or months later. I think that it helped me more easily write the things that I write for a living. It’s a practice I want to start again and this discussion may have inspired me to do so. Thanks, everyone.

  5. What a delightful conversation this is. Please don’t stop. Each of you writes and see differently…and each of you does very different work, yet mostly with words (except Paul who is visual at soul.) You are all showing that writing is idiosyncratic, linked, I am guessing both to the state of our hearts and to the way they have been shaped.

  6. Well, the computer, obviously. My favorite is the laptop because it can be just about anywhere (subject to battery limitations)

    Next – journals. One for work. One for everything else – very private KEEP OUT this means you.

    My calendar and sticky notes that I am trying really hard to stick someplace appropriate – like calendar, phone, or self until I do something about it. Trying hard not to write on envelopes, back of permission slips (whoops that was due last thursday), receipts and the like.

    Weird places I’ve written – yes windows, my hand (i do this a lot, especially in the car), sheets (not since I was single), my clothes . . .

    Last but certainly not least, in my head. More often that not, by the time it becomes words on a page (or screen), it’s been written, revised and refined in my head.

  7. For the creative stuff, my brain works best with my fingers planted on the keyboard. I carry a purple Yahoo! notebook around with me for when I HAVE to write something by hand — mostly notes and to-do lists, but occasionally a draft of more structured writing.

    Like, Anna, though, I also do a lot of writing and editing in my head. Two places work best for that: the shower (no distractions, soothing hot water) and long trips in the car. I turn the radio/iPod off and let my mind wander. Of course, I’ve been known to drive past my destination because my mind is busy writing. 🙂

  8. Right (write) on, Connie!

  9. ps. I’ve also seen Jon write on his computer screen. I mean physically with a dry erase marker.

  10. I forgot about that Anna. Just go to a blank word document and you have a great mini-whiteboard. I have writing on my hand right now. I wrote the first conceptual draft of last year’s Christmas drama on a cardboard box I found in the garage. I just wish I could get the writing done that I need to.

  11. I jot down phone numbers and reminders on my tile kitchen countertop with pencil – washes right off.

  12. My great-grandmother had a dry sink with a galvanized or zinc metal top. She wrote her grocery list on it with pencil, according to my mom.

    This other thought from Jim Rohn. Buy blank books. Use one at a time. Get in the habit of carrying it all the time. Write all that stuff in it instead of on windows, gum wrappers and cardboard boxes. Fold up and keep those oversized sheets of paper in it. He’s pretty persuasive about it.

    “I used to take notes on pieces of paper and torn-off corners and backs of old envelopes. I wrote ideas on restaurant placemats. On long sheets, narrow sheets and little sheets and pieces of paper thrown in a drawer. Then I found out that the best way to organize those ideas is to keep a journal. I’ve been keeping these journals since the age of twenty-five. The discipline makes up a valuable part of my learning, and the journals are a valuable part of my library.”