Exercise: Legal Pads
I once wrote a 120 page book all on lose leaf paper. It was the fourth grade, and I was obsessed with Percy Jackson, so I decided I would write a book just as exciting, with Greek gods, humor, and mythology all bundled into one. Before even that, I wrote 40 page short stories on lose leaf paper about total nonsense, but damn were they good, and to be sure, they are what really set me off wanting to become a writer in the first place, especially when my English teacher at the time gave me candid feedback about a piece that she wrote, saying that it was pretty decent. When I learned to type, and I mean really type, I stopped writing on paper: it seemed primordial and savage, and I could get so much more done typing. My mind went into a totally new set when I typed, and my work advanced because of this. I was getting drafts done in less time than ever. It was many years before I actually sat down to write a real story on paper again, and I learned that, I actually wrote much better on paper than I did when I typed. It may have had something to do with the actual kinetic experience of picking up a pen and engaging with the paper, or maybe it was just that innate way that I had been writing in the beginning which kicked in again: like a suppressed instinct that had no use in modern society, yet you learn it’s just so applicable today. However, I did not altogether stop typing, but more and more I felt the compulsion to instead write on paper as there was something about it that really helped to move the story along.
The reason why it’s important for a writer to go back to either their roots, writing the way they wrote before a change in thieir method, is because now you’re forced to do something that you may have forgotten how to do or never did before. There is an episode of Parks and Recreation where Donna has Jerry put flyers in envelopes to sell, and like a machine Jerry is just throwing these flyers in and gluing them, and filing them away. At the end of the episode, we learn that he put the wrong flyer in all the envelopes without realizing it. This is what happens when you do something no autopilot: your brain takes a vacation, and leaves your body to walk easy until it comes back. At this point, you need to change up the routine, do something different: go a different path, wear your hair different: just something that wakes your brain up and keeps you from falling into a bad habit or mindset: when I was depressed, everyday seemed to start the same way. I would wake up feeling a little better, but then I would turn on the TV, and then I’d go to the bathroom and look at myself, and then I’m slump, and then I’d get my things together for school, and then I’d go to school, and then I’d sit in silence, and then and then and then and then and then: the way that I alleviated my ailment was I changed up what kind of soup I was eating. I put a little less pepper, more salt, more tomatoes, less onions, more water, less artificial flavoring. If you are looking to do better, become better, like when you become stronger after exercising for a week, you need to add something, you have to do something so that your muscles can break down and build up again as they figure out how to do this new movies you’ve added to your routine. Change. It. Up.
So, homework assignment guys: go to your local Wal-Mart, Target, or whatever major store, buy a 3 pack of yellow legal pads (I promise, they probably won’t cost more than 3 dollars for 150 sheets total in all packs), buy maybe a 10 pack of some black pens, probably no more than a dollar, and walk back home if you’re close enough to the store, if not, then drive slow. Now, take a break from the keyboard and only use the legal pads for writing: force yourself to write these stories on paper instead of the computer, get out of your comfort zone and do something different goddammit. An even further suggestion, stories are not allowed to exceed 7 pages. Why? Because, I like Chuck Palahniuk, and he says that when he was taking workshop, his instructor said you couldn’t say it in 7 pages, then you definitely couldn’t say it in 700. Plus, if every legal pad is only 50 pages, you can write 7 stories (7×7=49, for all you guys who haven’t been in school for a while) with the last story being a little bit longer for that extra page, unless you tear it out. Plus 7 pages forces you to hit all the important parts, all the vital moments of the story, and really get down to it: plus, 7 pages doesn’t take long to read or write, you could do it on lunch break, before you go to bed, on the bus, etc. So, I say, go buy yellow legal pads, write seven 7 page stories and watch as your writing improves from getting out of your element for a little while. Only write longhand until you fill up these legal pads, then transfer them to your computer if you must, or edit them all on paper, your call.