I started the year trying to resume the discipline of keeping a handwritten journal. This process of deliberately writing by hand has reminded me how it so often results in a flow that’s very different from writing using a keyboard.
This got me to thinking about a poem I’d written several years ago about writing by hand
On the first day of a writer’s workshop, the instructor said we would be writing by hand.
Write with a pen? On paper? Surely, you’re kidding, I thought. I write with a pen only when hard copy editing, jotting off personal thank-you notes or signing an occasional check. I’m the queen of a paperless workspace, the diva of electronic communication.
The instructor offered us the choice of old-style composition books for our writing work. I reached for my laptop saying, “I don’t write by hand.”
“Here we do,” the instructor said.
So in the interest of cooperation, I dutifully selected the notebook with the cover that most appealed to me. I pulled out the only pen I had in my bag – a purple roller ball I used for editing at work. I opened the notebook, skimmed my hand across the first page and gripped my purple pen helplessly. I felt completely blank.
There’s something different about staring down a blank piece of paper versus a blank computer screen. At least the screen has other distractions going on … icons, blinking cursor, color. That blank lined page scared me. That purple pen felt like lead in my hand.
I’ve always liked the simplicity of “cut and paste” on a computer. If I get something wrong, it’s just a matter of highlight and delete. The consistency of font choices is familiar. They are tidy and easy to manage. Things might occasionally get messy with track changes, but I can always hide that. And a computer key never leaks purple ink or leaves a ridge on my finger.
Writing by hand means I can go back to another page and find words I thought I didn’t need. Those words are still sitting right there where I left them, good as new. This is unlike typing on a computer. Once that delete key zaps out a word, a turn of a phrase or a thought, it’s pretty much gone for good.
The process of writing by hand with that purple pen has led me to a softer acceptance of my daily striving to get it right the first time – whatever “it” is. My default had long been “get it right, and if you don’t, just quickly fix it.”
But now when I open my paper journal (almost) every day, I try not to see just a blank page. I remind myself to see possibilities in the messes of colors and lines and squiggles that often lead me to places I didn’t know I could explore.
Sure, it’s messy. But isn’t that how we get to the good stuff?