Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Reverence for the Archaic Tools of Writing

By Brendan Howes
© 2005,
Brendan Howes

In recent years, technology has been steadily replacing a broad range of goods, services and even people. It seems that most often when calling large companies, you can no longer get in touch with a human being. You are instead routed to an automated service. Sending letters needing stamps almost seems outdated, even archaic. In its place, e-mail offers a faster and better (for some) service. Even your car is dependant on computer chips. The push for efficiency and speed is astounding and can sometimes be overwhelming.

Being the sort of person who lives at his computer, I should feel happy about all this technology, should I not? Though I do in many senses, I still find the analog world holds value, and isnít given the credit it deserves. There are a multitude of wonders still held in "technologies" of the past, if one only takes the time to look and ignore the latest and greatest tech. It is with this idea in mind that I write now.

When I began my writing hobby, at least the one I carry on now with some seriousness, I naturally started with my computer. Now, to give you a little background, I have a desktop computer, which is far from portable. In fact, I believe the monitor, case, and components weigh more than I do, so you can see that typing on the go isnít feasible. I may get a laptop in the coming days (probably years), but for now, the price is too high to warrant a purchase just to satisfy my writing hobby. Even so, a laptop is still a computer, and wouldnít help in the matters I shall discuss.

Technology offers us newer and faster ways to produce and distribute our visions; just think how many thousands of words you can type each day. With all these new abilities which allow us to "write," should we even call ourselves writers anymore? More simply, do writers still write? If not, shouldnít we start calling ourselves "typers" or something that would better reflect the medium which we use? Itís a silly idea, I know, but recently it has had me wondering. These days, I find myself using old school writing implements much more often. Yes, you heard me; I use pressed wood fiber and sticks with a graphite core. It is my experience with the previously mentioned materials that Iíd like to share with you in hopes that, just maybe, the arcane skills of handwriting flow forth from our hands once again.

Like a language -- something that if one does not use one forgets -- cursive had become hard to remember how to write. The ease with which I once could combine letters so effectively had all but vanished. I had even forgotten how some capital letters were formed. It struck me as odd that I hadnít used cursive since ninth grade. In high school, if anything was to be handwritten, it had to be printed. Mostly we had to type things up so they could be printed from a computer.

As a writer, the loss of my handwriting skills stunned me. Could it have really been so long? How does one forget how to write? It was when I found myself at a website from which teachers could print out cursive worksheets for their grade school classes that I felt the truth of my situation.

As an aside, many of you may think itís not all that important to write in cursive, if writing is important at all. Thatís what keyboards are for, right? I just felt sad that I lost a skill without realizing it. The fact I had to find a website aimed at kindergarteners in order to learn it again was rather embarrassing. So, you canít tell anyone and Iím trusting that you wonít.

So with my newly acquired skill, I set out mercilessly toward any piece of paper my scrawling could touch. For, if I was to keep the skill, I had to use it, and use it I did. Instead of typing away for hours at my keyboard, being what felt like a slave to my desk, I found myself moving about freely and still accomplishing something. (No, wireless keyboards donít count.) This was the first benefit I saw in what was to be a cascade of revelations.

Many of the benefits seem all too obvious to me now, but in my obstinate stint of anti-anything-not-technical they werenít so clear. For one, the portability of paper and writing utensils is infinitely better than even the most lightweight laptop money can buy. You have to deal with not only the computer itself, but the infrastructure needed to print, send or otherwise deal with your finished work. Donít forget the power and services, like the Internet, needed to accomplish those feats, whereas with paper you could write under just the sun or even by candlelight.

Paper and all the related materials come in many shapes and sizes; anything from tiny notepads and journals to posters and post-its. You can fit a small notepad or journal anywhere: in your pockets, a purse, or you even in a holster for one if you wanted to be really unique.

Imagine: A child screams. The mother tries her best to console the girl, but not having brought what her daughter desires, the attempts are futile. Over muffled sobs, you hear the little girl requesting something to draw with. What luck! You swoop in with a sure grin on your face, knowing full well youíll be the hero today. Reaching under your jacket you quickly extract a pencil from your modified shoulder holster. To both the girl's and mother's delight, you even pull out some paper from another holster strapped to your thigh. The motherís headache averted, the girlís whimpers hushed. It is to you that all thanks are owed.

Quite the outlandish story indeed, but not so far removed from reality. The use for carrying paper and something to write with has presented itself more times than I can count. Any time you have something to remember or when a new scene idea suddenly pops into your head, even while youíre in the public restroom, you have somewhere to jot it down. I have all too often read or heard that people canít seem to find the time to write, or at least to make much progress, because they are too busy. Having a notepad or even a scrap of paper handy can single-handedly turn that around. Whenever there is a pause in your busy schedule, you have the opportunity to write. When some sort of catalyst sparks your memory or imagination, you have a way to record it.

Letís face it; we canít always remember details perfectly. Hair and eye color of non-major characters, while they may be important, are tedious details to remember, especially if you have more than a couple to recall. I have found that instead of trying to keep all the extraneous information in my head, or even in a couple of text documents along side my other work, can be a tedious process. Sometimes itís better to have physical material to sift through. Being tactile with my work lends me that much more incentive to get it done. I can almost touch my progress; I can lay it all down on the table and gaze upon its vast acreage -- and believe me, sometimes it almost seems I have enough notes to cover that large an area. It isnít just a file sitting on your computerís desktop. I can feel my work; it has to be moved and organized, reviewed or discarded, which lends an air of wholeness or reality to my project.

I understand the need and desire to have your work done via a word processor. You can quickly delete, edit, save, etc., although that can actually be a hindrance in some cases. When you have the ability to delete, what I call "going back on your word," you can be doing yourself a disservice. When I write on my computer, I constantly find myself pausing to reword things or reworking a sentence altogether. While there is nothing wrong with that, too much is not a good thing. I have heard a great many writers say to write first and edit later; I tend to agree. Get your thoughts out and forget about everything but the need to fill that page with all the ideas waiting to burst forth from your head. By pressing yourself to write it down on paper in pen, you are committing to an idea, whether good or not. Also, writing slows you down and that can mean more time to contemplate your thoughts and express them more clearly. I see these as extremely beneficial things.

I also began to consider my health, or, rather, the health of my hands and wrists. I have seen large numbers of articles covering how to alter your workspace and yourself to reduce RSIs (or repetitive stress injuries). Anyone serious about writing as a hobby, passion or profession (i.e. anyone who spends hours at their computer), needs to heed the word found in said articles. I even taught myself the Dvorak keyboard layout because of some serious benefits it offers, but I shall let you discover them, as itís outside the scope of this article and Iím not here to preach.

With this health issue in my mind, I welcomed any method that could give me time away from the computer to rest my weary wrists. Next to your mind, your ability to write, or type, for that matter, is paramount. Taking time to write things on paper can be more than just fun; it offers your wrists and fingers a much needed vacation.

I should warn you, however, that the analog style of writing is not without its pitfalls. The dreaded cup of tea, coffee, or maybe even cognac is an ever-present bane to a writer. No matter how far away or what precautions are taken, said beverage often dubiously finds its way atop your neat stack of papers. This next evil I was almost too afraid to bring up. The sheer trauma of its mentioning is enough to send anyone into a comatose state. I speak, of course, of the most heinous minor injury one can receive: the paper cut.

As you can see, there are some benefits to using ye olde style of composition. I encourage everyone who has trouble with time or sore wrists, or maybe just the boredom of staring at a computer screen pecking away, to do themselves a favor and get some pens, pencils and paper. Enjoy your writing, vary your routines, and keep things interesting. Even something you enjoy can get boring if it gets repetitive. Whatever your style or preference, just remember: write as if no one were peering over your shoulder.