Monday, February 20, 2006

A small treatise on writing

It's funny how hard it is to write with a pen. It's not hard because my hand or fingers are weak. No, it's hard because I'm a child of the technology revolution. I want to write because it feels so much more organic. When my hand is moving the words are flowing right out of me. This flow needs to keep going, otherwise it dries up. There is no cut and paste. This method of writing is less forgiving of a first draft--the rough draft will be rougher because if I bother to edit as I write nothing will happen. This very characteristic makes me a better writer, because I am forced to continue writing no matter what. If I want anyone else to ever see what I've written, I'll have to type it. No one else could read my handwriting. Of course this means typing it into a computer, which means forced editing. This editing most often comes at some point later than the original writing session. The requisite waiting period some guys have for calling girls is three days, or so I hear. I don't know if this is to develop some perspective, but that seems plausible. I need at least that much perspective with my own writing. Three days should give me enough time to realize that my flawless work may in fact have a few flaws, or that the waste of ink I scribbled has a little value after all. Then when I type it out I get to edit, rewrite, and revise. That reminds me an awful lot of the writing process I learned in high school.

But I didn't even get to the point I started making--which is, of course, a product of writing the rough draft of this in pen--about how hard it is to write. There are several possible causes for this, and I'm going to explore what these might be:

1) Education

I'm not saying that there is a pro-typing/anti-writing character trait inherent in those who have an education. What I mean to say is that the education establishment drives the will to write with ink right out of students. Teachers and professors want everything typed. Something about legibility seems to be involved with their reasoning. But this effectively means that the only time most students use a pen is on a written final. Any paper done in high school or college needs to be typed. Even the least academic student, given his or her choice about what to write a paper on, may find some pleasure in working on it. But even the most academic may have problems with anxiety and confidence when forced to pull out a Blue Book and answer various exam questions. How could this not translate to deep-seated feelings related to each method of relaying the written word?

2) Procrastination

I haven't studied American culture or its history at all, but I find it hard to imagine that procrastination has ever been as common as it is presently, and certainly the common pride in this procrastination is greater than ever. We--I--like to wait until the last minute. There is something exhilarating about a deadline. But because teachers and professors want papers to be typed, this means that even those who might otherwise write out an early draft are likely to use the computer. This enables faster editing. It allows for manipulation of the text. Spell check, thesaurus, and online resources make technical issues easier to take care of quickly. When a paper is due in three hours, efficiency is a key issue.

3) Laziness

Maybe this is related more to procrastination, but I'm sure it isn't only related to that reason. When writing a paper--I mean really writing--hard copies of research materials are needed. This means that a certain amount of work must have been done before the writing was started. Perhaps there is another option. The writer might have such extensive knowledge on the subject that he or she doesn't need the research materials at hand. But this is really not a second option, just a slight modification of the first. Most of us need to spend considerable preparation to have enough knowledge to write about something with no external resources. The other problem is that even with this sort of knowledge, crediting proper sources and steering clear of plagiarism are difficult. Working on the computer from the beginning eliminates these issues. Thanks to Google and other online sources, information is readily available while typing. There is no longer the felt need to go down to the library when a gap in information arises. Sure, too many online sources are looked down upon by teachers and professors. But many print resources are making their way to the web, eliminating this problem. Quoting someone is much easier when using cut and paste rather than read, transcribe, and rewrite.


So how do I solve this very personal problem? I see two options for myself, neither of which are inexpensive. The first is to practice writing. If I keep using pen and paper, over and over, despite its perceived impracticality and my inability, eventually I might develop some proficiency at writing. This will take time, effort, and planning, three things I lack. (Perhaps there is something to be said about the inculcation of the virtues that comes from the practice of writing, but I'll save that for some other time.)

The other option is to actually type. Up until this point I have been using type to mean word process, but now I mean just that: typing on a typewriter. If I buy a typewriter I can keep some of the aspects of the typing we've come to know with computers, but also keep the emphasis on the writing process that flows from a pen. The feeling of typing is still present, so the ease with which words seem to come while typing on a keyboard compared with that of grasping a pen isn't lost. In addition, that ever-important legibility isn't lost either. Typewriters can't connect to the internet. They can't save. There's no cut and paste. All the deficiencies of writing for getting something done quickly--and thus undercutting the writing process--are still lacking. But typewriters aren't cheap, either. Nor are they terribly prevalent. The upkeep is costly. And of course, those other expenses that were related to writing, time effort and planning, are still present. Is good writing worth it for one of these two options? I think so. In fact, I think so strongly enough that I now have a long-forgotten ailment and tell-tale sign of a forgotten generation of authors: writer's cramp.

1 comment:

Krispin Mayfield said...

When I write poetry, I write it in hand on a paper towel inbetween vaccuuming the rugs and wiping down the sinks. It just flows.

When I write prose, I like to be comfortable, sitting back as though I were about to read a novel - rather than start writing one. This being comfortable usually involves being able to tap away at keys.

Which I will do much more of, I suppose, since I think I have absolutely given up on poetry.