Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Crafted By Hand

I carry around a little black notebook in my bag and a black Pilot G-2 .07 pen in my front right pocket.  Without these items, I am a vessel adrift  in a sea of touchscreens and key boards, unable to write.

I feel almost guilty saying it, belonging as I do to the Millennial generation, but I am uncomfortable staring at blank screens. The blinking cursor in Word and Blogger is nothing short of tyrannical. Instead of an expanse of real estate awaiting my every thought, the blank page on a computer screen is an impenetrable fortress.

Fortunately, I am not alone in this preference for writing longhand. Author and video game designer James Mechner also writes in longhand, and wrote a great article on his reasons for backing away from digital devices. And, as Chris Gayomali points out in The Week, it is difficult to become sucked into a vortex of "puppy videos and ex-boyfriend/girlfriend stalking" with only a pad and pen on the desk. Writing longhand cuts down on distractions.

For me, the critical part of handwriting my ideas, outlines and first drafts is to silence my inner editor. There is an important difference between striking out a sentence with my pen and smacking that backspace button on my keyboard a few times. When I scratch a phrase out with my pen, the words are still there on the page. On a piece of paper, I see the progress I have made in articulating my ideas, even if those ideas are buried underneath black scribble marks. I build upon those lines (and lines and lines and lines) of crossed out material when formulating my ideas. With a word processor, the labor entailed in this writing, crossing out, and re-writing disappears into the ether.

Once I have a draft or a strong outline, I move to the computer. My drafts still need quite a bit of revision at this point, but when the cursor starts laughing in my face and the cold glare of the computer screen peels back the layers of my eyeballs, I refer to my handwritten draft. (If I'm still stuck, I check out puppy videos on Facebook.)

So, the next time you suddenly realize you wasted three hours reading each and every Buzzfeed list from the last three years when you were supposed to be writing your paper, shut down that laptop, find a pen and some paper, bring to mind those 3rd Grade handwriting lessons, and write. At the very least, you'll have something down on paper.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big proponent of writing-by-hand too, but it only works for me for certain types of writing. If I'm working on an academic piece--a literature paper or something like that--I need to do preliminary drafts by hand, but if I'm working on something like a memo or a piece for a magazine, I find it easier to get in the groove if my words are typed out. I hadn't ever really thought about it before, but now I'll have to pay more attention to see how exactly I make the by-hand or by-tech decision.

    Also, buzzfeed kills productivity. Kills it dead.