February 27, 2008

Writing 101 - Pen and Paper

I found it! I've heard it mentioned, but didn't put two and two together until I finally started working my way through the March 2008 issue of the Shambhala Sun and stumbled upon the article "Write Your Life," and excerpt from Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. In 1986, Natalie published her first book Writing Down the Bones about writing as a spiritual practice. Natalie practices in the Zen tradition. So I found it! Someone else who sees writing as a spiritual practice.

Her first chapter is "First Thought, Pen and Paper," about the implements in writing. Although the book is in its second edition with a new foreword written in 2005, this chapter hearkens back to the original 1986 publication. It speaks of the importance of choosing the right pen, the right notebook, of mixing things up and finding what works best for you. It got me to wondering how my chosen method impacts my writing.

I have never written, I mean seriously (or less than seriously), creatively written without a computer. The first computers started showing up in schools when I was in second or third grade. We played Oregon Trail on the black and green screen. I always lost half my kids fording a river and starved to death in the wilds of Wyoming. We got out first home computer, an Epson 386 when I was in fifth grade, I think. I started writing on that right away.

It is a very rare thing for me to compose anything by hand, though I have from time to time, usually when I am bored, that is all that is on hand and I am willing to take my time. Natalie talks about the importance of finding a pen which is smooth and swift enough not to slow you down. I type at better than sixty words per minute and still find that too slow. I don't like writing by hand because my hand cramps up and hurts. One thing I do notice when I right by hand is that I take the time to compose my thoughts before I write. They are less spontaneous, but often more eloquent - good in some ways, bad in others.

When my brother and I were teens, I complained to my mother that he was hogging the computer all the time and I would really like to be able to write more. She managed to find me an old word processor, made by Brother, ironically, the kind with the four line pixelated screen (like a graphing calculator) and a typewriter built in. I could save files to a 3.5" floppy disk. It made a horrible racket when it printed, like sixty typewriters at once, flying faster than even I could manage. I loved it. I always preferred to use it on the straight typewriter function. I could even correct spelling mistakes if I noticed them within a word or two. Something about the sound, the satisfaction of the letter punching paper, the way the keys felt under my fingers, just makes me absurdly happy. Modern keyboards just don't carry that same kind of tactile satisfaction. Sometimes I can find it in really old ones, but not very often. I still have that word processor. It still works, and I drag it out every now and then just for fun.

Otherwise I write on computers, my own, those in the labs and lounges. Sometimes I scribbly little thoughts and stories in notebooks during boring classes, but that rarely amounts to much. Several attempts at hand journal writing have failed miserably. But I've never stopped writing.

Thank Whomever for laptops and spell check and thank Natalie for her books.


FloridaGirl said...

Try using Moleskin notebooks (available from art stores and bookstores) when you are away from a computer and want to write. They are small enough to fit a backpack or purse, even a back pocket.

Stephen Parks Bell said...

Another excellent Buddhist writing book is Writing Your Way by Manjusvara. I had a workshop with him and it was really fun, I recommend the book.

Monica said...

Oh! I love moleskins! I have lots! I'll look up that other book. Thanks!

EdaMommy said...

I learned how to type on an IBM typewriter, and I really miss the feel under my fingers, and the sound that it made. As I *can* type it is much easier for me to compose my thoughts on a computer, though I used to love carrying around a writing notebook. I've had that book of Natalie's forever - it's a good one, I love it. Actually - I oughta dig it back out and read it again - thanks for the prompt! And Stephen, that book sounds interesting - I'm gonna have to check it out!!