How Do I Write? Let Me Count the Ways –by Pat Bertram

A Spark of Heavenly Fire

Okay, I admit it: I am a closet pencilphile. Seems silly, I know, in this electronic age, but I write in pencil on loose-leaf paper. There. I’ve outed myself. I feel so much better now.

I am not being contrary. I do have reasons. I have a better mind/writing connection using pencil and paper than I have with a keyboard; a mechanical pencil is easier on my fingers than pen, and paper is easier on my eyes than a computer screen.

For me, fiction writing is largely a matter of thinking, of trying to see the situation, of figuring out the right word or phrase that puts me where I need to be so the words can flow. I can do this better in bed, clipboard propped against my knees or on a pillow than sitting at a desk. If, as Mel Gibson said, “A movie is like public dreaming,” then novels are like shared dreaming, and where better to dream than in a comfortable bed?

I don’t know the entire story before I writing, but I do know the beginning, the end, and some of the middle. That way I can have it both ways: planning the book and making room for surprises.

I need to know a bit about the hero, but most of the time I get to know the characters the same way a reader would — by the way the characters act. In my work-in-progress, I thought I had a mother who was manipulative, but a reader pointed out that if that’s what I wanted, I needed to show it better. I reread the sections with the mother and decided not to impose my will on her. Although she drove her son crazy, I saw her in the rereading as sad, as if she were trying to find a way to fit in the world or make it fit her, and that was much better for purposes of the story.

I need to write the story in the order it happens — it’s more satisfying for my logical mind and easier to keep track of — but if I get to a place where I know something happens without knowing what, I will skip it and go back later when I know what is missing.

So, there you have it. That’s how I write.

What about you? How do you write? Do you have a favorite place or a place that puts you in the proper frame of mind? Do you write from start to finish, or like Margaret Mitchell, do you start with the last chapter and work forward? Do you have to search for the words?


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” 


Filed under Pat Bertram, writing

7 responses to “How Do I Write? Let Me Count the Ways –by Pat Bertram

  1. I’ve said before, Pat, that I always enjoy reading how other writers write.

    Unlike you, I write on my laptop. I find the process ever so much cleaner than pen and paper; but that might have something to do with my penmanship. I find working on a word processor makes editing easier: I can cut and paste and revise with ease, no words lined out and notes in the margins.

    • I write blogs on the computer, and since I blog every day, I’m getting more used to thinking while I type, so that might make a difference in my future fiction writing. I still like typing up the chapters after they have been written, though. It gives me an entirely new way of seeing the work, which is always good, so maybe blogging won’t affect my fiction writing as much as I think it will.

      I always enjoy seeing how others write, too. So fascinating!

  2. Old desktop computer….start to finish…don’t own a pencil, pen or any paper

  3. I started both of my novels with a pen and paper. I did notes, outlines, character descriptions, etc. When I’m pulling thoughts out of nowhere, they seem to come more directly from my brain this way because I’m an artist and I’m used to using a pencil or a brush.

  4. When it comes to writing something as large as a novel I usually start with a pen and an exercise book on a train. When I transfer from paper to computer I inevitably make changes.I agree with you that real paper is easier on the eyes than a computer screen. I write in sequence but I’m never 100 per cent sure how the book will end. It seems as you write more and more possibilities turn up. Some of these possibilities are better than the ones you started with.

  5. I am new to novel writing, my first sci fi novel Extinction is due to be released the first of August. A combination of computer and paper seems to work best for me. The writing is done on the computer, as it allows me to revise so easily and i can read it when i finish. My handwriting loses it’s readability once it gets cold. I keep a note pad beside the computer so i can jot down ideas for future use or a note to revise/add when I do my rewrite.

    We have a similar method on the writing itself. I start with an overall idea which consists of the beginning, ending and at least an idea on how to get from one to the other. The story, events and characters evolve as i move through the writing and things may change from my first idea.

    I quote one example that illustrates this. In the story The Rescue, which was the kernel that developed into Extinction, I had the ending completely thought out and one of my characters said something to the main character with the phrase, “and you know I’m right,” and she was right. It completely changed the story from that point to the ending. In a nutshell, my method is to watch the movie in my head and write down the things i see and hear.

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