Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts

My #2 Pencil

Image courtesy of pixabay, 

By Linda Wilson  @LinWilsonauthor

Do you compose on paper? On your computer? Or somewhere in between? These days, I compose on paper, on my computer, and standing on my head. Any way the muse strikes me. But back when I started out, I brushed off my trusty #2 pencil and wrote everything intended for publication longhand. Back then, in addition to reading how-to books, I read up on authors' lives to learn how they got their ideas, what their trials and tribulations were, etc. In this post, I thought it might be fun to explore how famous writers did their composing. I've summarized a few.

Quirky, Yet Effective

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens - 1835-1910), lived in many houses during his lifetime, but he owned only one special bed. It is large and decadent, made of carved oak; he and his wife Olivia bought it in 1878 in Venice, Italy. Today, Twain's bed can be viewed at his 19-room Victorian mansion in Hartford, Connecticut.

It is in Twain's beloved bed that he did much of his writing, including Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain was enthusiastic about this writing method, as quoted in the May 9, 2010 article, "Mark Twain Wrote (and Smoked!) in Bed," by Lisa Waller Rogers. "Just try it in bed sometime. I sit up with a pipe in my mouth and a board on my knees, and I scribble away. Thinking is easy work, and there isn't much labor in moving your fingers sufficiently to get the words down." 

Truman Capote said he wrote "horizontally," lying down in bed or on a couch. He would write the first two drafts in longhand, in pencil; and although draft three would be accomplished on a typewriter, it was done in bed.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968), author of The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men, works which earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature and a Pulitzer Prize, wrote his drafts in pencil. He kept exactly two dozen sharpened pencils (#2's?) on his desk, and used only certain brands of pencils that had to be pinpoint sharp.   

Twain said it best, as one of America's best loved authors was known to do: "I used to think there was only one place where I could write, and that was in Elmira, [New York] . . ." where Twain spent his summers. "But I've got over that notion now. I find that I can write anywhere."

Mind-Hand-Heart Combo

I remember in grade school when the pencils we carried in our plastic zipper bags had to be #2's. #1's simply wouldn't do (my #1's squeaked anyway, and my scribblings came out looking light and weak. And, for the record, mechanical pencils never worked for me.) Just for fun I did a five-minute online search and found many U.S. school systems still require #2's in 3rd-5th grade. Some school systems didn't specify. One required a #2 pencil with eraser, and a pencil or cigar box! The term "cigar box" was followed by "Plastice, small size with secure lid." Okay, so the term "cigar box" is used loosely here? Does anyone even have a cigar box these days?

Later, I got Bic'd. I was never the same. What a smooth ride my Bic pen was. That lasted a while. Much later, when I became a writer in earnest, I had to revert back to my pencil, mainly so I could erase all the mistakes. I had good company. After all, didn't Capote write his first drafts in pencil? Hey, the research backs us up (Capote and me, that is.) According to John Roger and Paul Kaye in their book, Living the Spiritual Principles of Health and Well-Being, there is an important connection between your brain and your hand. "The neural impulses from the fingers are sent back to the brain so that the writing actually releases and records the patterns of the unconscious. I call them 'beach balls,' those things we have suppressed for a long, long time and on which we have expended energy to keep under the surface. They can carry tremendous emotion. So at times you may end up writing very forcefully."

Trial by Fire

In this field of ours, no one gets to bypass the heart. I was no exception. One night in the beginning of my writing journey, I woke up in a cold sweat and actually sat up in bed. I had wanted to write freelance articles for our local newspaper but I had to ask myself, “Who am I to think I can put together an article anyone would want to read?” I was scared nobody would. But I couldn't ignore what my heart was telling me to do. I read a lot of how-to books and then went out and found a subject, a blind woman who was a storyteller. I interviewed her and took copious notes in ink. I also recorded every word she said. Then, somewhat like Capote, I laid down on my couch and transposed the interview. As you can imagine, this took hours and hours. All in ink. Even then, I understood the difference between ink and pencil. I couldn't use my pencil. I couldn't take the chance that my notes might smudge; every word had to be verbatim. When I finally got to writing the piece, I reverted back to pencil, wrote it all out in longhand, then typed it on my computer, printed it, and hand-delivered it to the editor who had told me he would read it "On spec." (you can tell this article was written in the late 1980s, can’t you?!) Happy days, he accepted it! Thus was born my very first published article. We won't mention that my husband took the photo for the article and made three times more than I did. The fact was, I had sold my first piece, and the big-city newspaper company (The Albuquerque Journal) paid its freelance writers!

I soon found that this method took far too long. I had to learn how to compose on my computer. Luckily, this turned out to be a natural transition, and I soon arrived at a comfortable compromise, which is how I have continued to compose today. It doesn't matter where I start--on paper or on the computer, though composing on the computer is faster. The important thing is I begin. I go as far as I can. Usually this first inkling of a story or article is rough. But of course, that's the nature of the beastly first draft. After the initial flow, I usually write the rest on the computer and print it. It sits for a while. The first edit takes place at a different place than my desk, on paper, with my pencil. Oh, how refreshing a change of scene can be! Back to the computer. This back-and-forth process continues until the piece is finished.

#2 Goes to Work

Recently, I took another look at a short story that needed revising. Over several years I have tried to make this story work. But the plot was weak. I've never given up on it, though, thanks to advice from one of my creative writing instructors. She encouraged our class to never give up on a story--just re-work it.

Since then, following her advice, I have sold several re-worked stories. So with this story, I tried an experiment. I changed my main character from an animal to a human (a boy). The transformation was stunning. Gone was the anthropomorphic world I had created, which I understand has few markets anyway. Enter a realistic story. True, I had to give up much of the original story's charm. Who knows, maybe that charm can work in another story. The important thing is I now have a new main character and a viable story.

Which brings me to my point: The changes couldn't have been accomplished without a mind-hand-heart connection--on paper--and written with a pencil. I have learned from experience that the very first idea may not be the best. However, it's a first attempt, so I write it down. I see if the new idea fits with the story (such as changing the main character). If it doesn't, I erase it and put in another new idea. I keep going until I start to feel excited. That's another indicator I have learned. That your feelings will tell you whether the story works or not. For me, my enthusiasm about a story can go from ho-hum to visceral excitement. I rant and pace and get out of breath, I love it so! Thanks to my pencil, I suppose composing in this way offers flexibility. I had to learn, though, that many story fixes don't work. I had to learn that often, better ideas have to evolve. It is the rare story or article that falls in place with very little editing. Although happily, those do occur. With re-worked stories and articles, once the necessary elements are covered--once the piece works--the process of editing by going back and forth between paper and computer can begin. Until finally, the story is ready for market.

For more information, please visit the websites listed below:

"Mark Twain Wrote (and Smoked!) in Bed," by lisa waller rogers, 

"Learn from the Greats: 7 Writing Habits of Amazing Writers," by Leo Babauta,"

The Weird Habits of These Famous Writers Will Surprise You, by Arianna Rebolini,

Linda Wilson is the author of the Abi Wunder Mystery series and other books for children. Her two new releases are Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me! (2022) and Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere (2023). You’ll find Linda on her Amazon author page, on her website at, and on Facebook.

Click the links for free coloring pages and a puppet show starring Thistletoe Q. Packrat. While you’re there, get all the latest news by signing up for Linda’s newsletter.  Connect                                                  with  Linda: FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram


How to Overcome Writer’s Block

First, let me say that I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s my belief that block for a writer comes from a lack of preparation and a clear concept of their project.

Writers need to prepare before they begin writing to avoid writer’s block at some point in their project.

If writer’s block does occur, walk away and do something like more research, have a conversation with your characters, read a book, or even take a work to clear the cobwebs from your brain.

I have written step-by-step procedural technical writing, How-Tos, short stories, Web content, created and facilitated writing courses at an online site for writers, also created a writer’s workshop, created an online critique group, and more. I also have two blogs about writing, and blog for children and about animals on another of my four blogs, and post book reviews on a blog.

As writers, we write about what it is we feel passion about. If a writer doesn’t have passion for their project, why are they writing it? Writers need to have a clear idea of what and why they want to write a particular project.

I believe that a quote by Mark Twain, which says, "The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say." is something that writers need to consider. I use this quote as part of my e-mail signature. It speaks volumes to me.

If writers wait for the muse to visit them, they will be waiting a long time.

Whether novice or seasoned writer, have your research completed, get the words down, than edit it or have someone you trust edit it.

The bottom line is proper research and concept before you begin writing to avoid writer’s block.

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