Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Learning to love my laptop


Barbara here. During the past month I noticed some peculiar things about myself. Since I’ve known myself rather a long time, I enjoy discovering new quirks. It suggests I’m still changing. Possibly even evolving.

Because there has been a lot of talk about rituals in this blog recently, I decided I’d mention my discovery. In the past, my creative muse and my computer have had a seriously adversarial relationship. They can’t work together; sitting down in an office chair in front of a blank screen and an impatiently blinking cursor was enough to send my creativity fleeing from the room. It felt too much like work. It wasn’t comfy, snuggly or encouraging. For years I have written professional reports on the computer; hence it was the analytical psychologist who took over the moment I faced that screen.

So all my life, I’ve done my creative writing long-hand on yellow lined paper, curled up in a comfy chair in peaceful surroundings of some kind (water lapping on the shore works best, but wind whispering through the trees works too). I then had to decipher the scribble of arrows, blocked text, notes in margins and crossed-out sentences in order to transfer the whole mess onto the computer. Then I had to print out the pages so I could curl up in my comfy chair and edit them. If I wanted to add a scene or a significant block of text, I had to go back to pen and paper.

Then I bought a 15” laptop. I could curl up with it wherever I wanted, and so surely I should be able to create on it! Not so. I could write small amounts (like this blog) and I could add the occasional scene, with great struggles, but I could not write a first draft of a short story or an Inspector Green novel. But because I was spending more and more time with email, blogs, Facebook updates, and online reading (all curled up in my comfy chair with a nice drink at my elbow), I was making friends with my laptop. It was becoming more an extension of myself, and less an alien tool.

Then a funny thing happened this summer. I began writing a new series with a very different style. Intended as a quick, easy read for the impatient, reluctant or beginning adult reader, the language was simpler and crisper, the plot linear and less layered. I started the first chapter with my usual pen and paper, but when I transcribed the beginning onto the computer, I just kept going. The rest of the book was written on my laptop, easily and without the hair-pulling and stumbling of my previous efforts. I still had to print it out to edit it. But even here, I noticed a fascinating distinction. “Big picture” editing, such as storyline and overall character development, worked better with the printed pages in my hand. However, micro-editing – that is, looking at each sentence and each word (do I really need that adverb?) – was more easily done on the screen. I particularly found this when I tried to edit using my netbook. Perhaps it’s because the screen was so small I could only see a couple of sentences at a time, and had little ability to scan the whole.

It got me thinking about the link between habit, medium and product. We don’t just write. We have a relationship with each of the tools, and it was fascinating to discover that each – pen and paper, desktop, laptop and netbook – plays a different role in my writing rituals, and each has its strengths. Other authors are aghast when I tell them I still write long-hand, but I wonder if anyone has noticed these peculiarities in themselves as well. Which do you find works best for each task?

7 comments:

Vicki Delany said...

Your post gives me a lot of thought. I do everything writing-related on my laptop. I am wondering if I need to expand a bit.

Rick Blechta said...

Change that you make yourself is seldom a bad thing -- as opposed to forced change from outside.

I've gone the opposite direction. The first things I did on a computer were related to my two creative pursuits: music and writing, so I was comfortable from the beginning. Somewhere along the way, though, I discovered how much I enjoy the feel of a fountain pen on paper and now I do a lot of my drafting on paper. I find that not working in the headlong manner the way I do on a computer gives me more time to cogitate and savour the enjoyment of joining words together.

Barbara Fradkin said...

That's interesting, Rick. I think it may be true that writing longhand, being a slower process, allows for more thought and careful choice of words. Although you'd never know it from my first drafts!

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Hannah Dennison said...

It got me thinking too! I find that my hand cannot keep up with my brain when I write longhand. But for my friends who do still write (not type) first, they say they need that "slower pace" to really think about what they are writing. I love a beautiful fountain pen (I have 3) and gorgeous paper, but I fear I'm too rushed these days to savor the pleasure. Plus my handwriting is awful.

Hannah Dennison said...

It got me thinking too! I find that my hand cannot keep up with my brain when I write longhand. But for my friends who do still write (not type) first, they say they need that "slower pace" to really think about what they are writing. I love a beautiful fountain pen (I have 3) and gorgeous paper, but I fear I'm too rushed these days to savor the pleasure. Plus my handwriting is awful.

Rick Blechta said...

Don't say your handwriting is awful, Hannah, until you've seen mine...