Thursday, March 20, 2014
Not So Mighty Now, Are You?
I freely admit it: I’m paranoid. I look for bad things to happen. That way, when they do I’m not surprised. Not always prepared, but at least not surprised.
Recently my paranoid mind hit on a thought that sparked a fresh round of fear, because it would affect the way I write. Normally I’m in favor of any excuse to put off sweating blood and words onto the page, but this one troubles me.
Some time ago I became aware that some schools no longer teach handwriting. You know, cursive. The one you sign your name with. God only knows how future generations will sign contracts and personal checks, or read old letters and diaries left behind by their families. Since most generations cling to the notion that all important history started with them, I suppose this won’t be much of a loss.
(Quick derail: does anyone know if shorthand has also become extinct? Does anyone even know what shorthand is? With all the recording devices out there, I guess there’s no reason for secretaries to take dictation any more. Or type, if everybody has their own personal computer or voice-recognition software. Not that this has eliminated paper. Remember how computers were supposed to make us a paperless society? Yeah, right.)
Here’s my concern: if everybody’s typing and nobody does handwriting any more, what does that say about the survival of that ubiquitous bit of office supply, the pen?
Personally, I love pens. I keep at least half a dozen in my purse at all times. Most of them even work. I have a small pocket-sized notebook to go with them. You never know when an idea or a scene will hit while you’re out on the road. It also comes in handy if you’re in an accident and need to jot down the other driver’s info. If your car breaks down and you don’t have a cell phone, you can write SOS on a piece of paper and make a paper airplane, but that doesn’t work very well.
Pens play an important role in my writing system. I can write on a computer if the mood strikes me, but I prefer creating my first drafts in longhand. Maybe it’s because my computer crashed one time and I lost everything on the hard drive. Paranoid, remember? Once you’ve committed that ink to paper, you’ve got yourself a copy that won’t crash. I type a lot faster than I handwrite, for sure, but if I’m going to sit there staring at the page/screen for long periods wondering what comes next, it really doesn’t make a difference what writing method I use. Besides, if I get stuck or bored I can doodle cartoons in the margins. You can’t do that on a computer. It smears up the screen something fierce.
Anyway, there’s something immensely satisfying about holding a pen in your hand, setting its point on a piece of paper and watching the magic physically flow from your brain to your hand to the page. When I really get going I can write longhand almost as fast as I type. Reading that frenzied scrawl three days later does pose a problem, I’ll admit, but it also forces me to slow down and really consider my word choices. This is only the first draft, after all. Messy pages are par for the course.
I do type. My second draft consists of typing the handwritten manuscript onto a computer—either my Paleolithic original system, the one with the printer (so paranoid me will still have a hard copy), or directly onto the laptop. If I need to add a scene or a chapter, I draft it in pen. Someday when I’m famous and kids are forced to study my work in Lit class, colleges will fight over my stacks of handwritten manuscripts, with all their scribbles and cross-outs and doodles in the margins and snide notes to myself.
Which nobody will be able to read because cursive will have become a lost art in the meantime and anything that isn’t block printing might as well be cuneiform. At least older folks who’ve lost their jobs will be able to find work as handwriting translators. (Just ignore that drawing of the saber-tooth tiger in the corner. It doesn’t represent anything, other than I was hung up on a plot point at the time.)
It might be a good idea for me to start hoarding pens, just in case. I remember when vinyl records disappeared practically overnight. I don’t want to be caught flatfooted again. Ditto spiral notebooks, just in case that prediction of a paperless workplace actually comes true. In a pinch I can use crayons. Crayons are the only things that’ll quiet down unruly preschoolers. They’ll never go out of style.
The alternative is to work harder and write my books faster, so I’ll have a fat pile of handwritten drafts finished when pens finally give up the ghost, or the ink or whatever. Then I can sit back and type all day, and use my crayons to draw colorful doodles all over my computer screen. I always think better with some form of writing utensil in my hand. No way I’m giving that up.