Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Paean to Plain Paper

Ah, laptop and word processor, local network and wireless mouse, you know that I love you, really I do. So don't grow jealous. Don't throw a fit. I'll come back to you, just like I always do. But today I want to shower some attention on a humbler (and equally worthy) subject. I want to praise the plain piece of paper.

See, my high-tech friends, you make writing almost magically easy. Text spills across the screen with the swipe of a hand, the click of a button, the flourish of fingers upon keys. It's miraculous, mysterious, mystical -- and also terrible. Why? Because the spell works both ways. Dissatisfied with a sentence? Perplexed over a paragraph? Angry with an awkward ending? With the same ease that it appeared, it can also evaporate. Punch the backspace button, tap delete, and voilĂ ! It vanishes. Destruction is the yang to your compositional yin, only it's anything but balanced. You're the ultimate in masochistic delight for perfectionistic scribblers, people who'd prefer to consign a morning's effort to the digital dustbin if it doesn't turn out just right. In other words, writers like me.

But plain paper? It requires yeoman's work. The words come out slowly to the skritch-scratch of a pencil or the silent sliding of a pen. And they won't disappear at an auteur's whimsy, oh no. They remain right there, stubborn ink stains and enduring graphite markings. An eraser or correction fluid can never fully remove these telltale traces of prior efforts. You can crumple, tear, or toss, but paper abides. It will not let you forget your work. It will not facilitate facile nihilism or give ground to your existential dread. On both days of triumph and nights of despair, it provides a concrete testimony to the fact that you put down these marks, you birthed them from the depths of your mind. Succeed or fail, publish or perish, you only need to look paper to remember that you're a writer.

And I will always love it for that.

(Picture: CC 2008 by Hacklock)


B. Nagel said...

I am currently more words into a project than I have ever been before because I write longhand during my lunch break. Then at night, I type it in.

When I try to lug the laptop on lunch, my word count plummets.

Loren Eaton said...

See, it's the exact opposite with me: Writing longhand shrinks my word count, although it also makes me produce higher-quality prose. At least I think so, anyway.

Nathaniel Lee said...

See, I can't even write longhand anymore. I often receive compliments (or at least remarks) about how clean my first drafts tend to be. Well, the reason for that cleanliness is that I rewrite almost every sentence - sometimes more than once - as I go. When I write longhand, I end up with either an unreadable mass of arrows, erasings, smudges, lines, and tiny crabbed text walking up the sides of the paper, or else a shitty draft that requires a complete rewriting as I transcribe it to digital format. (So much so that I sometimes end up just chucking the whole thing and starting over, which is simpler than trying to keep the original version in mind as I'm typing.)

So digital actually prevents me from throwing so much into the bin because I'm able to shape, trim, and refine as I go instead of trying to do it in a lump afterward.

Loren Eaton said...

The more I do and talk about this whole writing thing, the more I become convinced that it's an incredibly subjective (for lack of a better word) process. Everyone has a different method for getting those words on paper. When I do it, I start to scratch out a sentence of paragraph on paper then pop over to the computer (often in mid-thought) to type it out.