I don’t remember what it was like to write without a computer. To have to erase, leaving ‘crumbs’, and rewrite. Or, to crumple the page and start over. To cross out and to pencil in a new line squeezed above or snaked down the margin.
I suppose I remember well enough to have composed that first paragraph.
The act of writing is both a physical and a mental exercise in creation. We all start writing by-hand. My early penmanship was branded “sloppy” from nearly the beginning of my academic career. Thick-barreled pencils did nothing to stem the flow of tears (myself, or the teacher’s). Learning cursive was a season in hell. Yet, even then, at an early age and in that tactile misery, I wrote stories.
My birthright handwriting styled itself during college when I forced myself to print my notes. Copious notes, dug into spiral bound pages by cheap blue Bic Stic. Dig I did. After four years of pressing hard and lifting the point often to print, my lettering became fast and controlled; it became legible, and no longer a source of shame. But that’s just mechanical writing. (Writers have a heightened tactile sense of writing, and, for the record, I prefer either a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 or a quality gel ink, medium point.)
My first college papers were, I think, finished on an electric typewriter. I must have drafted by hand. Sometime early on I started working on borrowed word processors, then acquired my own. A preview showing six lines of text at a time was a miracle! But, well before the end of college, I found nirvana when I started using the Mac II Performas in the campus computer lab.
Could I be the writer I am today with technology 50 years older? I have been using DEL, BackSpace, and Cut/Paste for so long that I don’t know if I can ‘write’ without a computer. I’m not sure I want to.
Though, stories find a way to be told. Writers find a way to write. My personal clichéd philosophy is that I write because I have to; it is an imperative.
As a writer in the new millennium, I work with the tools of the trade. Fingers fly over keys (don’t get me started on the importance of keyboard tactility), deleting and backspacing now second nature and a real-time embodiment of shifting thoughts. Right-clicking to correct a typo, or to move entire blocks of text, is an incomparable efficiency. Writing and editing occurs simultaneously. Yet, pressing ‘Print’ hardly means it’s done.
This recent NPR story on the Kaypro II , the first word processor introduced in the 1980s, woke me to the realization of yet another reason that I am fortunate to live in this new millennium. Electronic word processing was as much a revolution as moveable type. Then, there’s email, the internet, and the possibilities of e-publishing.
I wrote most of this post first by hand, in pencil, and have to admit I did feel a bit limited. My mind drifted ahead to how I would edit when I typed it out. And with that, I remember that I started kindergarten writing in near-hieroglyphics, but ended high school with perhaps the one class that I can say I DAILY use the skills I learned: Typing.