Posts Tagged ‘pen and paper’

Box o' Letters

If you were born before 1980, it’s likely you are writing in code.

That’s right. Cryptic code.

We have a young houseguest staying with us. She’s nineteen. I literally have t-shirts older than she. Needless to say, having her with us has been an education, on both sides.

The other day, she watched with fascination as I sat down with pen and paper and slowly, over the course of the day, wrote a letter, by hand.

The fact that my correspondent and I had never met didn’t seem to faze her–in this day of social media, it’s commonplace. Nor was the idea of sending a letter by snail mail particularly foreign; presumably she’s sent a bill payment or a birthday card in her lifetime. She was curious about the slowness of the process, that it took several sessions at the desk to complete a single letter, but that wasn’t the big issue.

No, what really puzzled her was something much more basic. (more…)

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1972 Sheaffer Stylist White Dot Fountain PenI used to be much more disciplined about “writing time.” I also used to have crushing deadlines, which were a great motivator. Now, I have less time, my monkey-boy-day-job is more demanding, and it’s just damned hard to find time to shut myself in the back room, sit down at the computer, alone, without distractions, and pump a couple thousand words past the CPU.

To counter this, I’ve tried many tactics. First, I bought a netbook, thinking it would allow me to work anywhere; it turned out to be too slow and underpowered to provide any real convenience. Then, I bought a keyboard for my iPad, but while faster, it proved to be too clumsy to balance on the bus and still required a larger chunk of time in order to be productive.

So, I went Old School, returning to my writerly roots, as it were. As some of you know, my first books were written longhand, with pen on paper. Yes, kids, I actually wrote four whole novels without the aid of a computer. I swear it’s true; FC:I-II and PC:I-II were all written with a Uni-Ball pen on Cambridge steno pads.

This new/old method has increased my productivity for several reasons. Primarily, it is more suited to my Basher style; cudgeling out a few dozen or maybe a hundred words at a time is much easier than trying to force out a couple thousand words. It is also perfectly suited to my catch-as-catch-can writing schedule, allowing me to squeeze out a couple of lines at the bus stop, en route to the transit station, while waiting for a program to compile, or as I’m cooling down after my workout.

There’s also another, less obvious benefit: because writing with pen and paper is slower than typing, the resulting prose is the product of a more thoughtful and deliberate process. Writing with pen on paper increases the lyricism of my prose, and what ends up on the page is tighter, less cluttered by unnecessary wiggle-words, and is closer to what I really wanted to say. Yes, there are lots of cross-outs and insertions (see picture), which yes, looks as if I editing as I go along (Bad writer! No biscuit!), but this isn’t really editing; this is searching for the narrative path.

Moreover, writing with pen and paper just makes me feel like a writer. It is how almost all of my favorite authors composed. It’s an organic, completely natural way to create, completely divested of the trappings and necessities of computers and cables and cords. It’s immediate, it’s personal, and to me, it’s more than processing words; it’s writing.


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