Monday, January 24, 2011


If you write or aspire to write, there are several things you should be doing constantly: reading, writing, deepening your observation of the world, and searching for more insight on the writing process.

I've concluded that I write better when typing, and I believe I know why. My writing in typeface looks better, because it could be anyone's writing - Elie Wiesel's, Annie Dillard's, Wendell Berry's - and inspiration is unfettered to do it's work. My handwriting is only mine, and it looks very commonplace and homely and vulnerable, full of inconsistent lettering, stricken words, and clumsily constructed sentences that are too much work to change. It lacks the assurance and evenness of digital sentences, and perhaps most importantly, it lacks their inherent literary weight (whenever we experience literature today it is printed).

If I say I want to have literary weight, this only means that I want to write something that is clear, something that is passionate, something that is profound. It means that I want to write something that is useful because it is useless. It means that I want to trade freely with words and observation and thought and develop that singular skill of precisely articulated insight and detail that is the mark of the writer. (This mark, of course, is only an incidental insignia. The point is not to "be a writer" - the point is to write!)

In this endeavor I am perhaps rather vain, but I only want my life to mean something, and this is one thing I can do to give it meaning. When I don't write I feel I am in mortal danger of forgetting who I am, and when I use pen and paper I feel stilted and claustrophobic, as if my handwriting doesn't know enough words. My best writing has always been at a keyboard, and I suspect that will continue to be the case.

Another reason why I prefer typing to writing by hand is that it's hard to write fast enough with pen and paper to keep up with myself. My mental composition is slippery and fleeting, and once I hear the sentence right, I need to get it down quick. You can't beat typing for taking notes on your brain, which I suppose is a silent comment on how great must have been the minds that produced vast and intricate volumes of history or theology in ages past, all handwritten. Even if they used scribes, I am not at all convinced that dictation would be any easier. Chesterton in his Autobiography describes an acquaintance whom he admired for his ability to converse in complex, grammatically accurate, fully-developed sentences. One might think this is hardly worth noting, but I believe a bit of reflection will confirm that it is rare for people to talk in sentences, at least in normal conversation.

Maybe I'll write another post from the other side. Or maybe not.

1 comment:

  1. I prefer to type over handwrite too. I find myself able to think deeper with my hands poised over the keyboard. Not sure why though.
    It is rather convenient for editing too.