Friday, November 13, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 21: THIS is how you write.

Consider writing. We do that here all the time. But, this time, let’s consider the physical process of arranging words.
I do it on a computer keyboard, using the default word-processing program that shows up on most such machines. Some people I know use computers armed with fancy programs that perform all kinds of intricate tasks that help with the minutiae of writing books. Those things have never interested me, but to each his own.
Some people I know write splendidly on typewriters, including poet Paul Zarzyski and novelist Loren Estleman. One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, writes with pencil and paper. Patrick Dearen writes on paper as he walks the streets in the night.
Whatever works.
But there are people who think they know best, and believe their way of writing is superior—not only for themselves, but for the rest of us wretches who write otherwise and are too ignorant to know better.
I recently read a quotation by an author (who shall remain nameless, but if you really want to know I’ll fill you in) who writes longhand. He says, “Nothing compares with the fluidity of longhand. You shift things around without shifting them around—in that you merely indicate a possibility while your original thought is still there. The trouble with a computer is that what you come out with has no memory, no provenance, no history—the little cursor, or whatever it’s called, that wobbles around the middle of the screen falsely gives you the impression that you’re thinking. Even when you’re not.”
Fluidity. A fine word. The fluid that flows in longhand may well be sublime. It could just as easily be sewage. If said author wants to write longhand, fine. But to imply—no, out and out say—that writers who don’t, don’t think as well as he does is, to put it politely, what originates in a male bovine and becomes sewage.
THIS is how you write: however YOU want.


  1. We've sat through enough WWA panels to know there are as many ways to write as there are writers. The thinking consideration is interesting. I write on a keyboard, though I've written in long hand- usually when I was bored with whatever I was supposed to be doing. A blank sheet of paper let me escape. When it comes to thinking, I find the keyboard liberating. I think faster than my fingers. My typing fingers are faster than my long hand fingers. When I'm on a roll, I'd rather roll on a keyboard. But that's just me. Thanks Rod.

    1. Paul, your comment, "that's just me" is the key, I think. We must all find our own way. Claiming those who don't do it our way are somehow inferior is nonsense, I think.

  2. There's too much mojo associated with writing for anyone to say they have it figured out. I've heard that longhand speech too. I like it for very short forms (poetry, for instance) but writing by hand slows me down on longer projects.

    Enjoyed your post, as always!

  3. Rod,
    Used to tell my students that good writing amounts to "polished speech." So sometimes I write as if my reader were sitting in the rocking chair across the way, generating sufficient bulk for a good day's work, but then back to polish, to shorten, to sharpen. Buddy, I could not for the life of me write a headline on a keyboard. Paper and pencil, never a pen. Once again, you've nailed the topic, sir. Way to go, you. John Brown