Original Message—a writer who was frustrated with the process—writing in longhand for 30 minutes, then typing it into the computer—wrote us this note. The text is about saving time. The subtext questions the process and hints about getting a medal for sitting down and writing for 30 minutes. Buried in the subtext is a shout: What do I get out of it? We reprinted the message, followed by an answer.
From: Student Memoir Writer
To: Jack Remick; Robert Ray
Subject: hand writing then retyping
It takes me the same amount of time to retype handwritten stuff into the computer as it takes me to hand write in the first place. Or even longer. And it is less fun. Slows me down. How do you guys deal with that? How much do you manage to write daily? Do you retype everything that you write by hand into the computer?
Student Memoir Writer
Dear Student Memoir Writer:
Time isn’t the big thing in writing. Depth is. We encourage writers to write by hand because the action connects them to the body. What, you ask, doesn’t the computer connect you to the body too? The computer connects your eyes to the screen. It connects your fingers to the keyboard. It gives you a feeling of power and control. But look at the apparatus for writing on a computer—
screen, keyboard, software, telephone, mouse, desk, chair, lighting, electronic preservation which is ephemeral when the lights go out and the disk crashes.
The gear for writing by hand is dirt simple—paper, pencil, lap—and when the lights go out you still have a copy of your work.
Writing by hand is halfway between the computer and the oral tradition—expressing your art using only your voice. No crap in the oral tradition. No rigs, no garbage. Just you the poet and the gods who shoot you the words.
Pencil and paper are very sophisticated tools. Much better than carving in stone, much better than pressing a stylus into wet clay, much better than petroglyphs. Still a long way off from the oral tradition, yet connected to the body. When you write for 30 minutes, you feel what’s happening. Hand cramps, body heat.
When we write by hand, we get closer to symbolic writing—where one thing stands for another, where your unconscious spills out the good stuff. You can read about symbolic writing—the science is called semiotics; one of the major sources is C. S. Peirce—because when our words turn into symbols, we create more meaning.
Because we are human, we often fool ourselves, because matter is matter and humans have no privileged place in it, no special station—hydrogen, carbon, zinc. And this leads us to where you are—the memoir: no dinosaurs, so far as I know, wrote memoirs. No dinosaurs were told to honor their words. As humans, we are privileged because we can record our own presence, speculate on our own deaths, and, if we are lucky, have someone else witness our being. We have cave paintings but no record of what the painters were thinking. We have rock carvings but no insights into the brains of the cultures that cut them.
Writing is a very serious business. It’s best done with deliberation. Writing by hand gives you deliberation. It’s what’s left when you strip away all the noise, all the static, all the crap of today.
Hand writing gets you close to emotion. Slows you down. Speed in writing is not important. Order is not important. What’s important is depth.
Writing practice at its best is creative chaos—you let go, you go deep, the words take on meaning, you grab an insight into your work, your life, your destiny. If you don’t write chaotic—if you strain for the final draft in 30 minutes, you will perish with boredom. Your brain will wither, your soul will cry out.
The French word for computer is ordinateur. The thing that brings order. So we write chaotic, groping for a foothold, seeking the burning insight, and then we use the computer to bring order: shape and form.
We are troglodytes, curmudgeons of the word. We prefer to create by hand, to feel the heat, to bring order with the computer when we type it up. We follow this same pattern on good days and bad days. The books keep coming. The blog still rocks.
Thanks for your note, Memoir Writer. Don’t think too much when you write. Just put the pencil to the papyrus and go until you hear that timer.
Jack and Bob