Rediscovering the Lost Art: Writing by Hand


This post stems from the rediscovery of something that I find myself doing less and less: writing by hand. I’d love to hear how you guys approach your writing. Do you write by hand? Do you mostly use the computer?

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Rediscovering the Lost Art: Writing by Hand


Language Wanders

“Keel rändab kuni teda vajatakse.”
Language wanders until it is needed.

This might come across as sentimental drivel, but since I tend to toe the line between writing what I’m thinking and writing what I’m feeling, I consider it a success when I manage to do both simultaneously, and then an even greater success when I find the heart to place it in a public medium.

As you may have surmised, the above quote spurred me to write this post.

I get asked a lot (by Estonians, mostly) why an American would move to Estonia, and more specifically, why an American would bother to learn Estonian. It’s always an awkward question for me to answer, because the answer doesn’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t absolutely love words. But to make a long story short:

Four years ago, I read a poem by the Estonian poet Betti Alver. I stumbled across it by chance, more or less, but it is was love at first sight (reading?).  And I knew then, intuitively, that Estonia was where I was supposed to be, that I wanted nothing more than to learn Estonian just so I could read the poem in the original language. And now, here I am.

902858_10151414552172157_1054747438_oIn truth, the basis for this eventual conclusion has roots in an earlier habit. Several years ago, I started memorizing lines of poetry, quotes, or any other memorable forms of language. Whether the lines made me feel a specific emotion or I associated them with an event or a person, the second I heard a line of language — no matter the language — and it moved me, I committed myself to remembering it.

I still do this, of course. Usually they are simple lines (like the above quote); sometimes they’re entire poems. Sometimes I remember them with little trouble; more often, I must spend hours getting them perfect. The payoff for my effort, however, is worth all the time spent learning. Because no matter where I am, I have countless words at my disposal. I get to carry the heart of language with me wherever I go. And in doing so, I get to carry the memories of myself.

Remembering the lines, quotes, and words I love has become one of the ways that I associate time and place with people and things. Always, within the carrying murmur of words, no matter the distance or the time that has passed me by, rests the memory of all that I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, the life I’ve lived.

And often when I least expect it — when I’m walking down the street, staring at the walls, in the middle of exams, wherever — the words whirr through my mind like a train passing, call out to me, and wake me from my musings. Remember? they seem to ask. And I’ll smile.

Language wanders until it is needed.

Words wander until they return to me when I need them most.  When I need them to remind me of where I’m going and why I’m going and everything in between. They push me onwards to new places: give me reasons to travel and to learn, to break out of my comfort zone, to be fearless.

Words have power, they say — for ill or for good.

So, perhaps, in the end, it is better to say that Estonia chose me. That the words did.

And it all started with a child’s desire to remember all the beautiful words in the world.

“Of course the tempest strikes you,
hews the row of iron-bound words.
But you,
you thinking reed,
you are more
than tempest,
and stone.”
– Betti Alver, from Elu on alles uus  ‘Life is still new’
(This is my translation)

Do you guys make an effort to remember lines from poems or quotes that appeal to you? Are there quotes that you associate with an important time in your life? 

Writing is my Music

Nothing inspires me to write more than music: the flow of a beat, the emotional charge in a rush of wordless energy, the power of sound.

Sometimes, I hear a song and I think of a scene; I watch my characters dance around their lives to the tune in my head. Sometimes, I actively search out songs for a particular novel. And sometimes, I have songs that embody everything I’m trying to say, simply by the way they make me feel — whether a passionate resolve, a far-reaching sorrow, or an unspoken questioning of life.

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110Sometimes, when I feel like I can’t write at all, if I’m overwhelmed by my story, I pick up my guitar and I play. I listen and concentrate and ponder, and then I see something I previously missed — a character’s unseen regret, a civilization’s tenacity to survive built on the foundations of its failures. Thinking in terms of music, I then write it out. Note after note until there is a wholeness — a rightness — to what I’m hearing. Word after word until there is some form of totality to what I’m feeling.

In some ways, I find that silence represents a blank page — the words unspoken. It’s hard to write into the silence; it’s hard when you don’t know if you’ll ever be heard. So, instead of staring at a blank page for hours, waiting on the right voice to come to me, I search for the song that best represents the mood of my story or my thoughts, and then I put it on repeat. Often for hours. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember.

My worlds have foundations in melodious composition; my characters are the notes in a song that extends far beyond the page. I’ve often said that I hear words as if they were put to music — that I’m not a visual writer, that I don’t see my characters in terms of appearances or a world in terms of concrete images.  No, my writing is grounded in abstractions. My thoughts are keystones for feelings composed of sound. I hear my characters in their worlds: the rush of their breaths against the winter sky, the whistling of wind through leaves, the rustle of the past, the voices of their memories.

My writing is an instrument that provides the pulse, the background — a guide into the images and stories of another dimension, another mind, another beating heart. I hear the rise and fall of syllables, the caress of sounds between two opposing but similarly bound words, the rhyme — the cadence — of a soft melody as it plays out across the page in a span of poetry.

Some people need images to gather their ideas, to ground them in reality. Some people see their worlds in vivid colors and landscapes; some people have all-encompassing imaginations that expand beyond all the senses entirely. But my writing is my music and I am my writing. And I’m writing what I feel, what I hear. I’m writing the music in my mind, the humming insistence: the song of words singing in a language I’ll never actually be able to say.

Do you guys write to music? How do you see your worlds or characters in your head? Are they concrete or abstract?

Note: The current queen of my musical muse (and one of my long-reigning musicians of choice) and inspiration behind this particular post is Sandy Denny. Sandy Denny and her haunting, powerful voice.  There’s just something intensely sad and hopeful in her work — a reflection, often, of how I feel about words.

Mathematical Methods in Writing

Fear not all ye writers who (like me) fear the word math. This post will not have any equations in it. This is mostly a quick glance at how ideas can form from often seemingly unrelated subjects.

Although I have no talent whatsoever for anything with numbers, I do enjoy learning the foundations of mathematical logic, especially in relation to linguistics. And in studying linguistics, and more specifically stylistics, I’ve acquired new approaches to my own writing.

However, to be honest, I would have never thought that math, of any kind, would help me figure out a story.

I’m currently reading Mathematical Methods in Linguistics (hence the inspiration for the post title). Not for fun, mind you. Though, to be honest, not necessarily begrudgingly either. Last semester I took an elective course titled “Mathematics for Linguists I” (it could have been better titled as mathematics for linguists who haven’t done more than add and subtract in at least six years), and now the exam is finally creeping up on me. Some writers out there have both a gift for mathematics and a gift for words, and somehow employ both methods of thought to produce fantastic stories.

I, however, am not one of those writers.

Strangely enough, today while reading a section on set theory to refresh my memory, since it had been some months since I’d last studied it, I started thinking about a novella gathering dust in the back of my mind. My problems with this particular story originally stemmed from the world building (as is typically the case with me), and in this specific instance, something wasn’t connecting in my mind between one character’s relationship to the world and another character’s arrival into it. And then bam! The basis of my character’s beliefs erupted from the mathematical material I was reading. Bam! Suddenly the world made sense.

I started thinking in terms of set theory: Character A is an element of Set A, while Character B is an element of Set A and Set B. They are inherently connected because if one character is a member of Set A and B, then, based on how I define the rules by which an element is a member of a set, essentially I canclassify how they would interact with members of other sets. If I look at sets in terms of world or environments and put the characters within them, I can stipulate how all things are connected. And this connectedness is a huge part of my story idea. Needless to say, it grew into more sets, subsets, and elements, and, well, my notes look something like this: Set A  = {x| let x be all chosen souls in the universe}, Set B = {x| let x be ‘wandering’ souls chosen by character A for Planet A}, and if Set B is a subset of A . . .

At least, it didn’t extend also into a collection of complementary Venn Diagrams.

But, hey, if I’m going to study, I might as well use it for my writing too, right?

Have any of you ever gotten inspiration, ideas, or unexpected help from something normally unrelated to the subject of your story?

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing a review for The Name of the Wind is kind of like trying to describe the color red to a blind person. You search for words — other lesser adjectives, perhaps — and try to make connections in hopes that at least one will do it justice, but at the end of the day, you’re probably not going to get the blind person to see the color red.

Although, apparently Kvothe managed to play colors for a blind man — but that’s another story entirely. No, wait. It is this story. Because The Name of the Wind is a book about words, about stories – the interweaving of lore, the poetry of one’s life, the strength of names, the legend of actions. And with that being said, Patrick Rothfuss uses words the same way Kvothe plays his music: to tell a story in the most beautiful way possible.

If you haven’t already guessed, I love, love, this book. I loved it before I knew it was famous; I loved it after. I stumbled upon it by accident in 2008 when I was perusing the bookstore for something that appealed to me. After reading the back description and feeling the way the prose read, I knew that it was the one. Six years and three countries later, The Name of the Wind remains one of the few books that makes my “travel companion” cut to new places; it is one of the few books I consistently reread. It is, quite possibly, my favorite fantasy novel of all time.

So now that I’ve more than sufficiently praised it, I’ll actually get into the novel. I should start by saying that I’m under the impression that you will either love it or hate it. It diverges from some traditional fantasy methods; some people complain that there is a lack of concrete plot. Other people dislike Kvothe as a character. I’ll get into that more in a minute. Continue reading

How to Operate Your Writer

This post is getting a lot of attention over at The Sarcastic Muse. Robyn pokes great fun at one of my biggest writer pet peeves: getting interrupted while writing. Though I can’t speak for all writers, I will hazard to guess that many will share the sentiment. Feel free to post this on your door, over your desk, or hand it out in flyer-format to each member of your family!  🙂

How to Operate Your Writer