Writing is craft

When I started the guest post series, I had no idea there’d be so many people interested in contributing! There are still lots of talented guest writers to look forward to in February. After this month, I will continue to share the talent with you, but on a more scaled-back level. But right now, please welcome the lovely Madeleine Forbes.

guest post series


I’m in the mountains of Portugal, the Serra da Estrela. The farm is basic, we have no heating or electricity, water comes from a pipe in the rock. I have drunk coffee that morning and gone for a walk. Crouching in the dew, the morning mist dampens the pages of the cloth bound notebook my brother gave me. I write what I know in that moment.

A cool morning but no rain. Blue sky and the sun piercing cotton wool clouds above the mountain. It’s the last Sunday of 2012 and all is quiet except for the rushing of the river. Already I am losing track, already I had to count on my fingers to work out the date.

The first things I ever wrote were on paper, stories I illustrated laboriously in a quiet corner of the classroom, secrets recorded in salvaged notebooks, journals wept over, burned and ripped. Now I scribble fragments on the back of receipts and train tickets. I gather them online because I’ve found as words are written, they become polished, like river stones. Sentences untangle and flow in different ways. It’s a kind of processing, refining. Trouble is, onscreen they grow slippery, are too easily flushed away.

Offscreen, the words we write exist beyond their meaning. They mark, they stain. Sheets of paper stack up and fold. Mistakes are crossed out, torn through, filled in. Sometimes it’s easier just to leave them as they are. There is no delete, no cut-and paste. I like the way Tammy Strobel puts it.

“I’m on the computer too much and there is something freeing about putting pen to paper. I’m also less likely to edit while I write. I just keep the pen moving across the page.”

At the same time it’s lighter somehow, on paper. The things I use a pen for: shopping lists, fridge notes, directions. Ephemera, not to be kept. It’s exciting to step off the grid and make marks, to write messages only you will see. It’s how I started writing a book, because away from the screen it didn’t feel like work, it felt like imagination, like play.

Doesn’t matter how you do it. Write in a cheap crappy notebook like Natalie Goldberg, because “you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another”, or write in a luscious Moleskine with a fountain pen.

Write whatever you can smell and taste and touch and hear, what you see when you step up away from the brightness and look around. Write down that weird dream you keep having in the minutes just after you first wake up, the thought that scares you, the thing you would never admit to anyone, something that only you remember. You can burn it if you want. Write neatly and admire your work, write badly, cross it out. It’s only paper.

“I pay more attention to each word and sentence because they take so much longer to create. I am more aware of the music and rhythm of it, because I have slowed down to such an extent that each sentence sounds and echoes in my head as I write it.”

Andrea Eames

With a scrap of paper and a pen, you can capture moments out of the air, like magic. Go back to it once in a while, when things get stuck, when you need to walk somewhere, to hold your head up, when things are stuck. A word or two is enough. It’s a good habit for a New Year, it takes no time at all, and it’s free.

You never know where it might take you.

Madeleine Forbes
Madeleine is a writer, cyclist and aspiring beekeeper currently living in Cambridge, England. She posts rambles, musings and meditations sporadically at madeleineforbes.
wordpress.com, which often start life as scribbles on scraps of paper she finds at the bottom of her bag. She is currently working on her first novel.


photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via photopin cc

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  1. Exactly! I love writing on paper. Wonderfully put 🙂

  2. This echoes so many of my thoughts on writing. So beautifully written, even if it did start out as a scribble on scrap paper.

  3. I’ve recently bought a few pretty notebooks in hopes that they would motivate me to write more away from the computer, and lo and behold, it worked! There is something so nostalgic about putting pen to paper for me…it’s the only way I used to write when I actually WROTE. If that makes sense. In other words, the most creative writing I did was in the age before computers. Which is sad, because that was quite awhile ago now. This is a great piece!

    • Prettiness definitely counts for me when it comes to notebooks. Sturdiness, too, since I carry mine everywhere. Having my perfect notebook has definitely inspired me to write more, too, although I recently wrote the other night, “I’d hate it if I died and someone went through this notebook. They’d think, ‘Wow, she has a lot of to-do lists.'”

  4. Beautifully written and heartily agreed with. I just purchased a few extra notebooks so that I can keep one in every purse– no excuses! One of my favorite memories from college was from freshman year. Our campus is right along Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago, and I had a favorite rock that I would go sit on right near the water, overlooking the skyline. I wrote one of my favorite papers ever there, with an old spiral notebook and a pen. I haven’t done anything like that since, but I like the idea of it!

    • Lauren, that sounds heavenly. I want a special rock near the water! I think I need to make the effort to scope out my own writing spot. Notebooks for every purse/bag is a really good idea, too. I’m such a nomad going back and forth between home and John’s that I sometimes leave mine behind.

  5. I have so many notebooks, I had to make a rule last year that I would finish all of them before I bought any more! There’s a nostalgia and also an immediacy to writing on paper that I think is so important. Then there’s the fun bit – figuring out what to do with them all – processing and polishing and (hopefully) publishing something at the end. Alchemy!


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