Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pen and Paper Pathways

Like many writers, I survived my angsty youth by writing. I credit part of the discovery to my friend Melinda, who I met at camp between 5th and 6th grade who was the world’s BEST pen pal. I’d write. She’d write back. I’d write back… For over a decade we wrote probably a dozen letters a month. We shared pre-teen stuff, then early teen… in our teens we added in song lyrics and poetry (mostly stuff I wrote from my end—she did more seeking out of things that fit). She introduced me to the Psychedelic Furs (angsty stuff if ever there was any)—you see, I was in a hard rock town. She was across the state border in a much more cosmopolitan place (Pullman drawing students from Seattle—a resource Moscow just didn’t have). Oh, sure… chuckle if you like. It is how I saw it then.

A year or two after I met Melinda I began journaling… adding boys to my pen pal list… writing that bad poetry I mentioned… I don’t know what other kids did after school, but largely I sat with the television on and wrote. Sure, I had a lot of friends, and did things with them sometimes (more often weekends it seems). And I did gymnastics (yes, I realize I’m almost six feet tall, but my balance and flexibility were at one time quite good). But I wrote wrote wrote.

In college I kept up the pen pals. And for a couple years I kept up the journaling, until I had a boyfriend who felt that not SHOWING him was hiding stuff from him. Fine. I just won’t write then (I know now I should have just drawn the line with the boyfriend—it’s private and if you can’t live with that, I can’t live with the relationship).

I majored in Journalism and Psychology, but with Journalism, I actually feared the writing… okay… not the writing… I liked that… the TALKING TO PEOPLE. That is the part I feared. Interview? No way… Advertising was my emphasis… I know a lot about the media. I know the rules of copywriting and press releases… but I never did take a news writing class because I was afraid of talking to people.

Enter the Computer:

I only took one term of computers in college and it was a strange Mac programming class, but when I graduated I knew I’d have an advantage if I learned a little, so I signed up for a Dos/WordPerfect/Lotus class that summer that I did my internship. When I got my job at the end of the summer, that class made me the expert in my office for using the solitary computer the account service people shared.

I used it to type minutes from meetings (because they always needed editing) but the typewriter at my desk was for letter (at first)… As I got more proficient, I used the computer for more (after all, I was the only one who could).

THEN I took my business hiatus… you see… I got a little wary of advertising… it lost its glamour and so when I got a new HORRIBLE boss, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to find another advertising job. Instead I took up waitressing and applied to graduate school.

GRAD SCHOOL! Now, four years later, everything is EXPECTED to be done by computer… I bought a Mac and did what I needed. The summer between years of graduate school I even wrote half a book on my Mac (directly into the computer, no less). It was a horror novel, and must have been terribly campy, thinking back on it (I only have it on an old Mac disc that I may at SOME point try to retrieve, but I already know it’s bad. It would only be for nostalgia.

I guess my point is post grad school I’ve written quite a lot professionally, all on a computer. But the content is scientific. The grammar is proper and cool, and the content is given in a prescribed way.

Four years ago (last Sunday, in fact) I began my first effort at fiction after the 1993 effort at a novel. A dozen years later a few things were different. I had two children, my home computer was no longer sitting in the center of activity, and I’d gotten in the habit of taking a bath every night to unwind. So I began The Other Prince (a fan fiction story about Eileen Snape) in my bathtub…recycled paper (no lines) on a clip board, mostly, all long hand.

I was surprised how easily the story flowed… then again I’d had a plan for some mid points and the ending (something I’d never had before and learned (read: finally accepted) made for better books from my Harry Potter discussions).

Since that time, I’ve written a few ‘episodes’ at the computer, and I have several short stories I’ve written that way. You know what? People notice. My ‘voice’ is not the same at the computer. It is either clinical (my professional voice) or overly zany (my forum/blog/Facebook voice). I don’t get the characterization right. My dialog is jilted. So I have come to a conclusion…


You know how there are things you can do that you can’t explain? Skills that are so automatic that trying to teach someone is just really difficult. The brain is an amazing thing. People who injure part of it and have to learn new methods of doing things are acutely away. I’ve heard to this referred to as brain paths—the routes our thinking takes to accomplish something. And everyone can learn new paths, provided there are enough alternate routes, but it takes time.

I believe my brain path for ‘creating’ is intertwined with the handwriting, and that the path that goes through computer usage has been filled with the tails (the super serious and super silly) of the kinds of things I can produce.

I’ve asked my HPANA friends this, but am curious about others. I think this is related to three things: 1) age, 2) a habit of having hand written (journaling, letters, etc) and 3) conflicting things you might use the computer for.

So informal poll… how do you do it, and what are the answers (generally) to the above three questions… then I can provide some stats for you!!! (okay, so nobody gets excited about stats like I do… it still might be interesting…


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've wondered about this a lot and will be really interested in your poll results.

I *naturally* write on paper. I do *bits* of writing on paper...note cards, post its that go around with me all day.

But it wasn't efficient enough to keep up with my deadlines if I wrote too much in a notebook. I was doing everything twice--writing it on the paper, then transcribing it to Word.

1) I'm 38 1/2 (as my daughter would say! Got to add those halves in there)
2) I have probably 35 journals that are completely full of my life from 4th grade on. I wrote letters at least 2 times a week to my grandmothers and friends.
3) I use the computer to keep in touch with friends and family, for promoting, for networking, for research, for getting the news, blogging, and now...for writing. But I'd rather my editor just happily take my chicken scratched notebook paper. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

M.J. Nicholls said...

Hurrah to the Psychedelic Furs! What a deliciously dark and funky group.

I'm only 22 so grew up using the computer for EVERYTHING. But I scribble furiously when I'm involuntarily yanked from the screen. I've never handwritten a letter EVER, a fact which has just shocked me. I'm shocked.

Yes, stats please! I adore stats.

Watery Tart said...

YAY! Data!!!!

I'm such a geek that way...

Elizabeth, I will be interested to see, as I get deadlines (and more comfortable with creatively using a computer) if I switch. I quite LIKE my hand written stuff, but when Mari was here, she was amazed. "You really WROTE all that?"

Mark-it doesn't surprise me you use a computer for all. Another thing I hear from 20 somethings is they can't write as fast as they type (which is TRUE) but my inner editor can't ignore typos like it can written mistakes, because the typos are THERE and the written stuff, you've moved on...

Paul "FooDaddy" Brand said...

I used to journal as well, until I realized two things: 1.) That I complained a lot about how other people (i.e. girlfriends) weren't as open or introspective and; 2.) That I liked to share what I write.

So naturally when 2 made 1 unfeasible, I stopped being such a whiny little bitch. Now I keep my whining to myself.

I used to do it all by hand, too, with my .5mm mechanical pencil. Then the Instant Messenger came about, and I learned to type! I'm still one of, like, three people who type full sentences (with punctuation and capitalization!) in IM conversations.

Jeanne said...

Writing longhand is a multi-sensory activity. There's the tactile sense of the nib flowing over smooth paper. There's the kinesthetic input from moving your arm and hand while forming the letters, and there's the visual reinforcement of seeing your own creation fill a page with expressions of your personality and style. I also grew up writing longhand (I'm 53), although I didn't pen pal as much as you.
But somewhere in graduate school in the 1990s, I made the transition to the computer keyboard and I write my first draft on the computer. In order to edit, I have to print it out and hold it in my hands, so I guess I'm sort of a hybrid. I need to attack the manuscript with a mechanical pencil and write sideways in the margins and make little carrots to insert words or phrases. The editing process gels better for me on the printed page and it's the only way for me to get a satisfactory final product.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I make note by hand; but I do all my writing on the computer. My reasoning? I type faster than I write and my writing quickly morphs into chicken scratch. The computer also has the wonderful delete key which I find much more pleasing than crossing words out and trying to scribble above them.


Chary Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chary Johnson said...

Let's see, I wrote in my diary during my teen years but in Pittman shorthand so no one could read it. I had some pen pals and did most of my writing with pen and paper prior to 1995.

After 1995, all my writing has been done on the computer. Like Elspeth has said in the previous post, I simply type much faster than I write. As a special education teacher, I am very precise and neat with my handwriting so that my students can clearly understand the task of a lesson. Writing a page would take me about five minutes whereas typing a page takes me one to two minutes.

Thank God for those typing classes in high school. :D

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I'm nearly 38 1/2, was forced to start using word processing software when I was 23, and non professional writing prefer to do longhand.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I write on the computer, but even when I do, I am only taking down what I have already written in my head, and in my head, I write longhand. When I need to change a word here or there for instance, I scroll back my memory of what I wrote, cut out the words, and put in new stuff with a little tick to indicate it is above the normal stuff.
Does any of that make sense?

Unfortunately, it is not new data for you, because I think I already told you this.