Work in Progress #15: The Joy of a Legal Pad

CNW Bagel ShopThere’s a time in my writing process when I have been sweating and agonizing and re-thinking how to proceed with a chapter and am terrified to actually start writing it. The amount of material I have to include seems overwhelming, I need to be sure to include enough warm, human parts in the midst of all the necessary facts, and I’m convinced that – even though I’ve done chapters like this one time and time again – this particular chapter will surely be my undoing…the one that proves impossible for me to accomplish…the one that finishes me as a writer of nonfiction.

That’s when I click the “shut down”button on my laptop, snap it closed, shove it aside, and whip out a legal pad.  Because it’s a legal pad, I tell myself, I’m not really writing. I’m just sort of messing around.  I start jotting a few things down. I don’t write them down, mind you…I’m just jotting.  I jot some more. Then I cross out a sentence or two, rearrange, draw arrows, put a box around a group of words and make a note to move them over here…or maybe over there.

I re-read the mess of a page, remembering to skip the crossed out material and struggling to follow my “go to here”and “insert there”instructions.  Suddenly I realize that this messy page of words is not bad. It’s not well-written but it has good bones that seem properly connected one to another. So I keep jotting things down on my legal pad.

When my writing time is over I have a bunch of scribbled pages and I feel as if I’ve done something. Tomorrow, I’ll open up my computer again and my first order of business will be to transfer my legal pad scribbles to a neatly typed page on the screen. This transcribing from my legal pad(which I won’t let myself believe is transcribing) will fool me into thinking I’m really writing again and I will be launched into my new chapter.

A writer, I’ve come to believe, has to be two different people inhabiting the same body. There’s the person who knows that typing on a computer and jotting on a legal pad are one and the same thing and there’s the person that refuses to know that because the refusal to know is the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful writing day. A writer has to be both the person who knows the truth about what she’s up to and the person who allows herself to be hoodwinked for the sake of her art.

When it comes to the words on the page, nonfiction writers need to stick closely to the facts. But when it comes to how those words get onto the page – well – there’s nothing wrong with a little fantasy.

About Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

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Connie is an experienced speaker and presenter who enjoys sharing her passion for writing and her experience as a writer with readers and writers of all ages. She has presented to students, community, civic and professional organizations, writing groups, library audiences, and seniors – wherever book lovers gather!
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