Tag Archives: Writing Technique

Languages Again

As ever I have trouble finding out which language to use when I write, and who knows, even when I think. I have been writing in English the last years, but I try to speak Danish in my normal life (not to mention the other languages that are running around somewhere in my head).
Lately I started writing some more things in Danish, and as I didn’t know where to put these on this English blog, I decided to add a wordpress.com blog in danish to it. Just to keep things gathered in the right places. I’ll just see what happens with it, as I don’t want to force me to use a certain language. When I read a book in Danish or Dutch, my natural reaction is to write about it in its language, and the same happens when I listen to a radio program, a video or whatever.

For now I decided to try not to worry about it, even though I know that as a result of changing languages none of them will perhaps be used in an eloquent way, but I will put my trust in the eventual power of simplicity. I have to.

What tools should I use to write?

There are many programs for writing and editing texts and most are good for anybody and anything. Because basically they all do one thing – they let you create texts.

As a writer you write, as an editor you edit and as a publisher you publish. The writer in you wants a tool that can create texts as quickly and easy as possible. Quick because when you are finally getting some good ideas or when the words are coming to your mind faster than you can type,  you need a tool that reacts immediately. Your mind is occupied with trying to grab the ideas and impulses so you also want something that is fool-proof and not distracting.

After many thoughts and attempts I settled for the one obvious tool that does the job best: a plain text-editor.

Text it

A text editor is a small program that basically produces .txt files, which is just about the most bare and smallest kind of text-file you can produce. No different letter types or sizes, nice layout or  italics or bold, but just text, ready to be used everywhere you want. Because of the simple .txt format you can take it anywhere you like in the world of text-based software. Open it in your favourite word-processor and create the most beautiful layout you can think of or send it by email to your best friend who can read it instantly in the mail or open it in what ever software and operating system he or she might happen to use. Copy and past that long post into your blogging tool or create an archive of lightweight basic text files, future-proof.

Text files are very convenient to back-up as their small size guarantees the shortest possible uploading time to a backup service, be it on the web or on your memory key. It will take you very likely more than a lifetime to write 2GB of .txt files, so you don’t have to worry about running out of space anywhere.

But one of the main advantages is the quick response time of text editors. They open instantly and make my old computer react like a brand new top model. Keep a shortcut at hand and whenever an idea pops up write it down immediately and save it, either in a file of its own or keep a file open to gather related ideas.

Save it

Save your files naming them with the current date like yymmdd (for example: 100211) and you automatically create a diary or journal that is stored in the right order and with the exact date you had that brilliant idea.

When you consequently start a new file each day you can keep track of different versions by copying the lightweight .txt file of the day before in your new file and edit and save it.

Control it

In order to keep control over your growing archive of .txt files you can use a search-tool that you tweak to index your archive of .txt files only. In this way you will be able to search very fast and won’t get distracted by .mp3 files or house-cleaning schedules. To ease up the searching process I add tags to pieces of text that I think I might want to use or reread later. A tag like #(tag), as for example: #quote or #idea, doesn’t really work in the search-tools I used as they apparently don’t “read” the #-symbol. So I opted for tag-quote or tag-idea that is certainly indexed by all search tools.

Screenshot of the results of a search in my .txt files (using Tracker).

I put the tag on a new line and I add a few words that somehow describe the piece of text I am referring too as these words show up in my search results directly behind the tag.

Screenshot of a text editor with tabs (gedit)

Choose a text editor that supports tabs so you can open search results or other multiple files you are working on in the same window and quickly switch between them. These could for example be chapters of a book, a plot or character descriptions, quotes or articles. I keep always two tabs open; a todo list or notes file and a file with the tags I use so I can be consistent.

Screenshot of the my complete screen.

Most text editors have the F11 shortcut that will turn it into a full-screen productivity machine and with a default easy-for-the-eye background colour there will be no stopping you.

Well, I can’t see a reason anyway.

Quote on Writing


Conrad Busken Huet

This quote reminds me that writing in the first place is something you just want to do – and as such it shouldn’t be aimed directly at an audience. Liberty is available if you dare to let go of your always weary “Lizard Brain”, as Seth Godin calls  it – the part that is always weary about the consequences. The Dutch journalist and literature critic Busken Huet (1826 -1886) apparently did well in writing freely what he thought, but by publishing it he created many conflicts:

Zijn doel, als van ieder werkelijk schrijver – van de lyrische dichter tot de man van wetenschap toe – was zijn gedachten in een zo klaar, zo suggestief, zo adequaat mogelijke vorm uit te drukken waarbij het gelezen willen worden een secundaire vraag van zelfbesef en financiële noodzaak is.(…) Deze denkmoed, onafhankelijk, candide en wereldvreemd is de motor van alle veroveringen in het rijk van de geest en was ook de motor van Huets kritisch vermogen. Maar wie die gave bezit en wie er zo mee woekert als Huet gedaan heeft, moet afstand doen van het verlangen in ongestoorde vrede met zijn medemensen te leven.

bron: Jan Romein en Annie Romein-Verschoor, Erflaters van onze beschaving.
Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij, Amsterdam 1977 page 728

My humble translation attempt:

“His aim, as that of any real writer – from the lyrical poet to the man of science – was to express his thoughts as clearly, as suggestive, as precise as possible, whereas the wish to be read is a secondary question of self-awareness and financial necessity. (…) This courage of thinking, independent, candid and otherwordly is the engine of all conquests in the spiritual world and was also the engine of Huet’s critical capabilities. But he who posses this gift and who makes it profitable as Huet has done, has to abandon the desire to live in undisturbed peace with his fellow human beings.”

Natalie Goldberg – Writing Down the Bones

I can understand why Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” is a bestseller. It is a inspiring book with a mission: To get people to write as a habit in an honest and spontaneous way. She advocates the practice of freewriting – that is to sit down and start filling up that white paper. Don’t think but trust yourself and let your pen do the work. In her opinion the best writing is done this way – messages from the heart – unfiltered by ego or too much intellect.

The book is divided into 64 short chapters and most are – as Natalie says herself – written in one session. In these many chapters she deals with many aspects and problems one might encounter when creating the habit of writing as a act in itself. It was interesting to read her approach to deal with the feelings connected to it – the voices inside of us. To beat one’s worst criticizer – oneself – is the key to good writing.

This approach of training writing skills by continual practice for the sake of practice might not be for everyone, but maybe it should be. I think that every writer or would-be writer at least should try it.

Just Write

When words come quickly and my fingers barely can keep up with the stream of thoughts I usually don’t stop to look up a word in a dictionary. My English vocabulary isn’t too big unfortunately so I sometimes use words in three different languages. My own, that of the country I live in and English. In this way I keep the flow when freewriting.
When editing I translate the foreign words into English and this helps me to build a vocabulary of my own.
Sometimes these non-English words express something in a certain way that can be hard to translate and that keeps my writing personal.