Saturday, January 7, 2012

Writing By Hand

Though I embrace technology in many ways, there are some realms of life in which I prefer tradition.  I never plan to own any electronic books or reading devices.  I am entirely willing to sacrifice efficiency and space for the sake of feeling paper.  I want to hold books in my hands in what I consider their natural state.  There is an indefinable value in the palpable weight of an intellectual work.  Not to say that shorter works are “lightweight” in content as well as physical form.  As a poet, I would never belittle an achievement that fits on a single sheet of paper or in a few carefully crafted lines.  Even so, I want to hold novels, to smell them.  Old and new books smell different, each in a good way.  Allow me to turn pages with my own fingers, not the impersonal click of a mouse.

My affinity for paper extends to the act of writing as well as reading.  Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I still write first drafts with a pen and type later.  I can blame (and thank) my British education for this habit.  My English classes involved writing essays longhand in ruled notebooks.  And rewriting them, often several times.  Even my maths and science exams included writing out my work.  My instructors did not believe in multiple-choice bubble-filling as a means of assessment.

As a result, I grew accustomed to expressing myself on paper.  I began writing for fun long before I had a computer.  I filled notebooks with my journaling and fiction.  Now I have a computer and use it every day for work and outside of work.  I take notes on paper for my research but draft the presentations and articles entirely in electronic form.  When the source material is in spreadsheets and statistical software, it seems logical to write it up by typing.  However, I have not lost my connection with the low-tech pen.  I still write my journal, poems, stories and even novels by hand.  I type them up later for editing, preserving and disseminating.

A blank notebook page feels different to me than a blank screen.  It is more inviting, more connected to physical experience.  In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit to typing this post without the intervening step of handwriting.  In the world of blogging (and research), dissemination is the primary goal.  I have come to realize that I type first when I write for others.  The notebook will come first when I write for myself.

1 comment:

  1. I'm largely the opposite. When it comes to writing, my hand cramps quickly when using paper and pen. Typing really enables me to write for long periods of time and be more productive, where as with writing by hand I would have to take long breaks which impeded my progress.

    I do keep notes on a small notepad for research, but I've been looking for an electronic alternative, and take notes on my iPhone fairly frequently using the thumb keyboard. Surprisingly, this is often quicker than writing by hand for me.

    When it comes to books, I have likewise moved to electronic forms. I am in the process of giving all of my physical books away to libraries, and by the summer hope to own no physical books. I've also instituted a ban on new purchases of physical books. If I can't buy it in eBook form I won't buy it at all. I do all my reading on my iPad. The advantage to me is one of simplicity. All of my books fit in a small satchel now, and are easily portable. I no longer need bookshelves, it has reduced clutter, and in general allowed me to affect a more Spartan lifestyle, which is an ideal I aspire to.

    I also find I read more. My work in on my iPad, and so it travels everywhere with me. On the occasion that I find myself with nothing to do (such as on the bus or train) it's easy now to pick up whatever novel I am working on at the moment.

    I'm also a fan of how eBooks are changing the publishing scene, moving more power to authors, and less to distributors and middle men. I have a friend who has published a non-profit pantry cookbook this way, and the new model has enabled her to work with a lot of food banks to get free copies of the book to needy people. Her cookbook isn't just a recipe book, but a good educational guide to food safety and eating healthy on a budget.