Old School

writingskillsI seriously want this shirt.  It’s right here, in case anyone wants to order it for me.  The nice plumb color would be fantastic.  XL.  Thanks 🙂

I posted this link on my Facebook wall, and it sparked a fun discussion about old typewriters.  I learned to type on a machine that looked much like the one pictured here.  The typewriters at school were so well used that the keys no longer had letters on them, so we couldn’t cheat if we had to.

The typewriter I had at home also looked very much like this one, but it was even older, and I was way too fast a typist for it.  Several times per report, I’d have to un-jam the keys that were all tangled together.  Then I’d have to employ the whiteout, and then attempt to re-align the paper just right so that my lines wouldn’t be all funky.  Somewhere around my Sophomore year of high school, my mom produced a newer typewriter for me that had a backspace key and eraser tape.  Once I started typing on that beauty, I knew I’d never go back to longhand writing.  After my first computer came around, I was forever sold on the idea of typing. Why would anyone ever want to write longhand or use a manual typewriter with these new-fangled, beautiful methods of fast-speedy-quick data entry?

Until I did go back. I worked through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron a couple years ago, and in it she urges all artists to free-hand journal.  She stresses the importance of pen-to-paper.  No typing. No computers. Just you, your earliest morning thoughts and a pen.  It really does feel different, reaching for these seemingly archaic methods of communication in order to awaken creativity, but it does work.  When I was writing those morning pages, I found that my creative mind was more alive.  I tried ignoring her advice at longhand writing once, opting for the computer, and found that it wasn’t nearly as effective.

In a recent conversation with writer friend Courtney Herz (go check out her blog; I’ll wait), we discussed the merits of writing longhand.  She remarked that the portion of her story typed on the computer required many more edits than the portion she wrote longhand.  The part that was written with a good, old pen and paper had far less red during the editing stages.  We came up with a couple reasons why this was probably the case, and it boiled down to two simple facts: Speed and lack of distraction.

1. Speed

When you write longhand, you are forced to slow down.  It’s kind of like riding a bicycle, versus driving a car.  You get to the same destination regardless of mode of transportation, but on the bicycle, you feel the breeze in your face.  You see every blade of grass.  You can stop to pet a cat, or talk to a stranger.  You aren’t so hyper-focused on the destination, as you are enjoying the journey.

It’s also harder to go back and make changes when you write longhand, so you write deliberately.  More thought goes into each and every word.  Your sentences are phrased with care, and it’s been proven scientifically that when you write longhand, your brain retains more of what you write.  When a writer goes back and reads over her work, she might be surprised to find that her longhand drafts have fewer inconsistencies than those typed into the computer.

2. Distraction

To quote Courtney, “My notebook doesn’t have an Internet connection.”  How many times have you been writing on the computer, and before you realize it, you’ve squirreled off to a news story, or Facebook, or your email, or…. You get the picture.  Writing on a computer is akin to writing in a room full of toddlers.  So many distractions that seem to demand your attention.  I’ve found that I get my best, most solid, computer-based writing done when I take my laptop to Starbucks and neglect to turn on the WiFi.  I also leave my phone in the car.  No squirreling is possible. (Note: Speaking of distraction, “squirreling” is not marked by spell-check as a misspelled word… that’s funny).

You can take a pad of paper and a pen anywhere you want to go.  Write in your bedroom, or your kitchen or outside under a tree.  Write in a coffee shop, or during your lunch break at work, or on a mountain top.  You don’t need power, you don’t need WiFi, and you don’t need a specific location in which to work.  How many times have you been hit with inspiration in a random location with no way to get it out of your head?  If you practice carrying a notebook and pen with you: Problem solved! (Note: Don’t try to write while driving 😉

These discussions have me completely reconsidering how I write.  For 2015, I think I’m going old school.  Give me paper, or give me death!  I might even try to find a vintage typewriter on which to type my first edit.  I love the idea of slowing down, seeing all the sights of my story, and giving them the credit they deserve.


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