Somehow composing right into the computer is difficult for me. I grew up writing without the benefit of a computer until my junior year in college (1987) when Keith and I purchased a Tandy PC with a dot-matrix printer so that I could more easily write the many papers I had due as an English major who took electives in history and philosophy. But even with the Tandy, I still could not compose directly into it; instead, I found myself gazing into the monitor's black Cyclopsian eye as it stared back at me, my reflection distorted in its huge pupil. The clicking clacking of the keyboard as my fingers hit the keys distracted me; I couldn't find a rhythm that didn't lead me into singing song lyrics in my head rather than composing words.
I found the writing process' stress lifting as I took out a pad of unlined white paper, usually the back sides of my dad's stapled reading articles from work, and a very sharp pencil (sometimes two), and let the words flow unhindered by the Cyclops and the clacking. Writing with a pencil allowed me the freedom to be creative as miswordings and misphrasings were so easily erased. And I will confess: I was incredibly vain about my penmanship. And still am.
So this weekend when I needed to write an interview with the owner of a new nursery in our mountain area, I took out a spiral notebook and my beloved fountain pen and the words were flowing from my brain before the nib touched the paper. I composed the article as ideas came, knowing that I would edit as I typed the article into my laptop the next day. And yesterday I sat in my parents' apartment near the beach and typed in the article, editing as I typed: moving this sentence to the next paragraph, combining these two paragraphs, omitting the last six sentences in favor of a fresh ending. This is the way I usually write.
Yet when I tackled NaNoWriMo last November, I gave no thought to trying to write on paper first; there simply wasn't time when 50,000 words had to be committed to my laptop in thirty days. So I composed without much editing, grateful for the laptop's cheery colors on the screen and the quieter keyboard despite my bizarre typing style that developed over years of untrained word processing. The words flowed much better than I thought they would, and I was fairly pleased with the overall effect ... and with the success of composing 50,000 words of a novel -- roughly 84 pages -- in less than a month.
So I have another couple of large writing assignments before me: transferring my Class Day lecture notes into a high school writing manual this month, at least the MLA research paper portion. And it is a project that I will do without my smooth-flowing fountain pen, without pride in my handwriting, without the relative quiet that I have always loved about the writing process where the only noise is the faint scratching of brass nib across paper.
So, as I have spent my writing time today writing about writing, here is my new Quotation of the Week, one I picked up while reading Anne Lamott's excellent book on writing, Bird by Bird:
"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."That truly is how writing feels much of the time. I identify with my writing students at Class Day each year when I tell them what they already know: writing is hard work. Even for people who write well, the act of putting words to paper or onto a computer screen is a love/hate kind of a thing. If anyone tells me that they "love" to write, I raise an eyebrow in disbelief. It's the ones like me who "have to write" whom I know will make something of themselves. It's half-torture, half-ecstasy. And that's what writing is truly all about.
-- Kurt Vonnegut