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Leaving The Pages Behind

It seems that pages may not be my friend.

This is something I stumbled across by accident. When writing my last novel I tracked my progress by pages. It was important to me to use a word processor that displayed the page count, so I could tell how far I’d come, when it was time to start looking for a new chapter break, etc. What I settled on was MS Word (version 2008), and it worked well enough for those purposes, but it was so buggy that by the end of the book I loathed it and swore never to write another story in Word.

(I have notes on most of the word processors I’ve tried since switching to the Mac about four years ago. My notes on MS Word read: “Big fat ugly pig. Weird screen artifacts when scrolling rapidly through a document (shows some lines repeatedly on the screen, doesn’t refresh properly). ‘Fucking MS Fucking Word just fucking crashed on me fucking twice trying to edit a fucking header.'” So, there you go. Not a huge fan.)

The one thing Word has that I’ve missed, though, is the so-called ‘Normal’ view. That focuses the display window on the text and compresses the page break down to a single dashed-line. No other word processor does that quite as well. Typically you have a choice between ‘layout’ view (in which your document window shows a picture of a piece of paper with your text on it, wasting a lot of screen area) or ‘draft’ view, which focuses on the text, but doesn’t show page breaks at all.

I hate ‘layout’ view for writing fiction, but resisted ‘draft’ mode for a long time. I really, really wanted those page breaks. I’m writing my new novel in Bean, though and reluctantly went naked, without visible page indicators. In ‘no layout’ mode Bean doesn’t even show the page count in the status bar at the bottom of the screen, just a word count. It was just me and a long window of text.

The new novel is moving along much more briskly than the last one. It’s hard to point to one thing and say “That’s why,” but I have to wonder if part of the way the words are flowing is the lack of that page break every 250 or so words. It’s not that I’d say, “Okay, I’ve got my four pages. I can stop now.” I think it’s just the little mental tick, that awareness of, “Oh, I’ve flipped over to another page,” that may have been interfering slightly. That little bit of focus on pages, which don’t really matter to the story, instead of words and scenes, which do.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s switching from Courier font to Menlo. Maybe it’s the story, or other things going on in my life, or the weather. But it’s hard not to think that the the unimpeded flow of words in the word processor may have something to do with the unimpeded flow of words coming from my fingers.

I’m not talking about a ‘distraction free’ writing environment, such as have become all the rage lately. If that’s your thing, fine, but I use other windows when I’m working (mainly a text file up on another screen with notes and character names). I’m just talking about in your word processor itself. If you’re using a view mode that shows page breaks, try turning them off. Arrange your application window so there’s nothing there but your words. Close the toolbars if it’ll let you, so you can fit an extra line or two of text on the screen.

It’s worth a shot, and it doesn’t cost anything to try it. Maybe you can get rid of some friction that you didn’t even realize was there.

Close the Window, Pick Up The Phone

I was writing at the library the other day and for some reason my laptop wouldn’t latch onto the library’s WIFI. When I had to look up something or other, do a quick bit of research, I used my iPhone.

It worked. No Internet on the laptop kept me focused, but I wasn’t completely cut off from whatever facts I thought I needed. The extra step of picking up the phone to get to the Internet (and the low speed and small screen), kept me from lunging for it every time I paused in my writing, the way I might on the computer.

Give it a try. Unplug your computer from the Internet, or turn off your WIFI, do your fact checking on your phone, and write. If you don’t have an Internet-capable phone, go back to the old trick; slap [lookitup] in the text where you need to check something and move on. Go back later and fill in the gaps.