Tuesday, January 5, 2010

agonizing and excellent.

I have been spending my time lately thinking about writing. Not actually writing, mind you, but mostly about thinking about it. Granted, good writing cannot happen until the pen touches the pad or the fingers dance on the keys, but I figure that there must be some sort of reflection on the craft every once in a while. I read something interesting by songwriter Chris DuBois. Writers have the gift of perception, the craft can be developed. Perception, though, has a few faces, and that is what makes writing and writers different and worth exploring. 

Part of my meditation on writing and perception dealt with the medium. I have pondered for some time now buying a stack of legal pads and a box of Dixon Ticonderoga #2 yellow pencils and setting about becoming a man that exclusively deals with the handwritten prose. Wendell Berry is my favorite writer. So versatile, and so much to say. He only uses the pen and pad. Something about an expensive machine really cheapens the process. Perhaps its just the rationalization of the the organization and gurgitation of thought that kind of rubs me the wrong way, but then again its probably just the difference between a shovel and a back-hoe.  Tools that perform the same task in different ways.  Or, the difference between a graphite and bamboo rod. The bamboo rod is slower, more delicate, more organic, more calculated, and requires a definitive sense of process and result. The graphite is more of a brute, the result of years of development and error, requiring of the beginning angler only a few hours  on a lake to competently shoot line forty and fifty feet. Its about volume. The legal pad requires for sentiment and nostalgia, two important themes that appear in what I write, along with a delicate hand and a calculated, committed course of thought and narrative. It also requires legible penmanship, something that I lack terribly. I began recently to write in all caps, but soon my careful letters gave way to the same bullshit turkey dusting results as my former lowercase attempt at communication.

Back to the rods. The computer, and the graphite rod, while they are easier and faster, perhaps give me the chance to spill it all to a fast and volumous medium, catching thoughts that normally would fall to the basement of my brain before my hand could record them. I think of my best writing, and it has come in either of two settings , including hybrids of each. The first is when my fingers fly as my mind dumps to the keys. Some of my best work, including published work, has come this way, as if it had already been created. Other examples or descriptions of this setting are journal thoughts that I have sort of stewed and developed for a time, almost as if I have already written them consciously and orally, as if they need recording, not writing.

The other favorite writing has come as a result of the pen and pad. I think of being in Alaska and choosing to sit for two hours to develop a thought. Its more narrative, more descriptive, more careful, more calculated, because once it goes to the paper, it sure as hell isn't coming off. It is both agonizing and excellent.

I would love to hear your thoughts. 





  1. Hi R,
    From my own perspective I’ve only been writing for a few short months and I’m still coming to grips with my best approach, sometimes I’ll jot a few scribbled lines using carbon and pulped tree, other times it’s straight to the keypad. Which ever method I use I find that I’m not a natural and I have to put down the skeleton of the idea and then come back to the piece either after being ‘out there’ or simply leaving the room for a time, to fill the meat in. I enjoy the writing and the way it makes me think more carefully about how I express myself (not the usual grease monkey factory talk that is my norm!). I’m still in awe of yourself and others on the ‘blogosphere’ and how you communicate with such spell binding clearness of writing. Only one other thing to say, thank heavens for spell check!

    Best regards,


  2. Interesting read.

    I think I do my best writing when "my fingers fly as my mind dumps to the keys" as you put it.

    I've done a few pieces that actually mean more to me personally, that I spent months on, and I wasn't as satisfied with them as much as my "spur of the moment" pieces.

    As Murphyfish put it thank heavens for spell check! Now if someone can come up with a punctuation check.

  3. Semicolons are the death of me. I feel as though there is never an appropriate time for a semicolon.