Friday, May 20, 2005

I May Be 36, But I Don't Write A Day Over 50

"So how's the writing/studying writing/writer's group thing going?"


I love computers. I'm grateful on a daily basis for what they can do, both on the job, and around the house.Organizing, massaging and beautifying otherwise boring data, storing 150 albums worth of pictures on a single CD, it’s all the good life wherever my laptop goes.

I love writing. I can express my self without stammering or repeating myself too much. I can present finished thoughts to another person without going too fast or too slow for them. It’s great being in charge of an opinion when cranking out an essay, or to be the creator (or destroyer) of an entire universe when working on fiction.

I love the Internet. Reference galore, freely given; that one person in a million who loves/hates [insert odd person/place/thing/activity] more than you; ideas both preposterous and devastatingly better than yours; e-mail and instant messaging. The list is long.

What do you know at this point? We have my appreciation of the modern computer as a tool, my preference to write as a creative outlet, and my familiarity with the potential of the Internet. So then why isn’t this page overflowing with words yet? Given the previous paragraphs, this blogging thing would seem to be made for me to work with. Well, for starters, it ain’t a page, at least not to my old-fashioned sensibilities. It’s not a page, it’s an image on a screen—a picture of a page, to my way of thinking, or more to the point, my way of working.

Maybe a rambling analogy will help explain: I enjoy Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, and a two-pack of those sugar missiles have gotten me through many a late night. At most all franchised bar/grill/lard-house restaurants, they offer fried cheese sticks, wheels, or wedges, and they’re always great to me (if not for me). On occasions when this grown-up needs a drink, Maker’s Mark bourbon is tasty to me. That said, if you delivered to my table a tall glass of bourbon with a snack cake and a fried cheese stick inserted in it, Bloody Mary style, I’d tell you to get it the hell away from me (as tempting as it might be to sample hooch-soaked fried cheese).

See? It’s possible to like several things with equal zeal, but also possible to disapprove of a combination of those same things.

What in the name of Chris Claremont is the point of all this wordy claptrap? Simple. I like to write, specifically using a pen and paper. Not sure why I prefer one method over another, even if the method I sniff at is more efficient, neater, faster, or whatever. Maybe it’s the delete key that gives me pause, with its carpet-bomb of editing. By keystroking an incorrect letter, phrase or grammatical construct, I can’t shake the feeling that I sometimes throw a baby or two out with the bathwater.

By scribbling on paper, I can scratch out and revise, use crude arrows to move whole paragraphs or to insert later and better ideas, all the while without losing all trace of the seeds of the work. It’s a hoot to see just how bad my first approach to a passage was, overcome but not erased by a second thought. It’s thrilling and rewarding to see a sentence fly from period to period without so much as an uncrossed t. Even cooler than that? When I see a bit of work that was crossed out, then rescued and restored because my first instinct turned out to be the best one.

Isn’t this a time-waster? Writing longhand, revising with a pen, not simply taking care of all of this electronically with the same result in half the time? Isn’t that what computers do for us? Maybe for you, Mr. Hypothetical Reader, but for me? Can’t see myself doing this any other way. Obviously, I recognize the need to involve my computer at some point, and I see the utility of the Web and this blog and all, but that’s just the presentation, not the process. For me, the quickest way to create something to present in the first place comes from the end of a pen. God knows I’m envious of anyone who can put their thoughts straight onto a screen, revising, reconceiving, critiquing as they go, but I doubt if that envy is powerful enough to change my methods.

Case-in-point: what you’ve just read (all 659 words) represents 45 minutes of ink-and-papyrus work, barely legible and certainly not approved by the Little, Brown handbook. Three-fourths of an hour of 70’s style brainstorming, followed by 20-30 minutes of 21st century typing and HTML-izing. I can hazard a guess that those 600-some odd words would have taken me 5 times that long to commit to solely through the use of Microsoft Word. And this piece would be imbued with the same emotional connection I have with my exterminator, or America’s Next Top Model.

So there. Finally, I’m working towards answering the question at the top. The writing/studying writing/writer’s group thing is going slowly, and the why is spelled out above. I didn’t say it wasn’t going well, just it was going slowly.

You’ll have to wait on a Big Finish… I’m still scrawling it on my TGIF receipt.


At 12:05 PM , Blogger MDBuck said...

If writing longhand works for you, go for it--you won't be alone. I know Stephen King's written a bunch of his stuff longhand, and Neal Stephenson wrote the entirety of his recent Baroque Cycle in longhand--three massive books that total almost three-thousand densely-packed pages in hardcover.

Brian and I saw Stephenson speak at the Harvard Bookstore about a year-and-a-half ago, and he talked about the whole "writing longhand" thing. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here, it's been awhile) that writing on the computer was almost too fast--having no delay between brain and fingers and word-processing program tended to produce words and sentences he wasn't happy with because there wasn't as much consideration going into them. Writing longhand added something of a temporary "buffer" in his brain--while he was taking the time to write out one sentence, the next was already in his head...but that sentence sat in his head longer, and he had more time to consider it before writing it down.

So yeah, it's slower. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Most important is if it works for you. If you're getting results you like and you feel comfortable doing it, then go for it.


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