Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ways and Means

This week we’re going to continue discussion technology and it’s effect on writing with another of Jenna’s suggestions. I tend to write my drafts with a pen. Ideally a very nice, black pen, able to make a nice, dark line on the paper. I don’t generally like lined paper, except in journaling, and hate writing in pencil. I used to type my edited poems on the typewriter, but mine is having trouble now, so I tend to just rewrite. I love handwritten drafts. The look, the feel, the scent, and all the crossed out bits that I can rediscover later and edit back in. A computer doesn’t allow me to have the crossed out sections, so when I write on the computer I tend to delete whole pages in a fit of simplification only to discover later that I really wanted one partially remembered bit back. Those are my reasons for writing by hand. But do I think it has an impact on the final product, in general, not for me specifically? I don’t know, I think it must, but I wouldn’t go so far to say the impact is good or bad. I can’t usually tell the difference between a typewritten or handwritten final draft. The impact is less on the outcome than the process. I think typing everything on the computer leads to a more transitory relationship to the words themselves, they are so easily deleted, they haven’t ‘bled’ on the page the way written words do, but that impermanence gives the writer more freedom while editing to completely transform the piece.
I do wonder, in my more judgmental moments, whether writing solely on the computer has contributed to the huge number of badly written, barely edited books coming out on the market. I know I edit less when I see my writing on a screen instead of a page, and I know that the ability to put so much done, so quickly, with no fear of running out of space has encouraged me to over-write at times. But I don’t know how much of this is due to my own personal weaknesses as a writer and how much is due to the influence of technology. I’m interested to see the response here, because I don’t have a set opinion, so much as a collection of muddled feelings and impressions.

What do you think? Do we need to reclaim the written word, abandon our computers and return to a place without screens and humming monitors? I don’t think so, but I would argue for keeping the texture of writing alive in some way, in typewriters, inky pens, and coffee stained pages that can be finalized on the computer, but have lived in some way without it.


  1. Hey, interesting!

    I actually think that having multiple modes of writing is a huge help in itself. For me, writing by hand is very different from writing in Open Office, which is itself different -- psychologically if not obviously-physically -- from typing into a comment box, and all these things are markedly different from using a manual typewriter or drawing letters one at a time with various art supplies. If I were to use a touch-screen keyboard, or a tablet and stylus (if they're still called that) or my regular phone text-message composer, it would be something different again. I find -- it's different for everyone, maybe -- that I actually need to shift gears like this in order to get much done. Things written in just one way tend to feel unfinished, like a building with only two sides and no shadows.

    And in the days when it was totally normal to speak your poems and letters and whatnot to a secretary who wrote them down for you, the shifts were different again from what we're used to.

    I do wonder, in my more judgmental moments, whether writing solely on the computer has contributed to the huge number of badly written, barely edited books coming out on the market.

    If it is, it's probably in a roundabout way. Badly written I can't speak to; badly edited is probably partly due to a real trend of publishing companies hiring fewer and less experienced editors for less pay, which is related to technological developments but not directly.

    But I don't know for sure because this isn't a trend I've actually witnessed.

    OTOH, I wouldn't be surprised if the use of computers led to overall fewer errors in printed books. Easier to spot, cheaper and faster to fix.

    I know I edit less when I see my writing on a screen instead of a page

    Hah; I'm exactly the opposite. The ease and immediacy of on-screen editing is the reason why I tend to spend six weeks replacing a single word with a bunch of different words and changing semicolons to sentence breaks and back again 2000 times. But I don't know if that situation would actually improve without a computer; I might just never finish anything.

  2. Interesting discussion. I think that over-reliance on the computer certainly leads to carelessness in a lot of writing.

    I think the increase in badly edited books though is just as much due to the lack of editorial staff in publishing companies these days.

  3. I like this. If I were a poet, I don't think I'd ever write on the computer; I've never written lyrics that way. But I'm totally spoiled by the computer for blogs, essays and novels...

    So, I'm taking this week off the standard blog schedule. I'll plan to answer this next Monday--hope you don't mind! I'm just so far behind on things that I need a little catch-up time, and am therefore going to limit myself to pictures. :)

  4. Laura~
    Fantastic response! I don't often think about the editing end of things, usually because most of what I write is obsessively over edited and so never makes it out anywhere, because there might be one more thing to change at some point in the future. :P But it's a good point.
    I edit less on a computer, in part because I think I have a harder time seeing it as 'real' and in part because I'm afraid I might want the old version back and I won't be able to get it!

  5. Jenna~

    Enjoy your week off! I think I might do the same thing, take off from the computer almost altogether, except in the early morning when it's too dark to do anything else. :)

    And, I think you're right, if I wrote more fiction, and had a longer battery-life, I think I'd write more on the computer, maybe someday, when I save up for a Mac, they have 7 hours of battery, can you imagine!! I'd be overwhelmed :)

  6. I MUST have lined paper. It drives me batty not to have the lines and words straight.

    A more full response at Jenna's.

    But ack, I still have not put that letter in the mail, I'm going to staple it to my forehead!