After I got my fountain pen a while back, I realized I needed something to do with it to justify having it. What good is it to have a cool gadget if you’re not using it? So I started writing a letter to a friend, a good old-fashioned handwritten letter, delivered by the US Postal Service for just $0.58, which ain’t a bad deal, really.
As I wrote, I was struck by the way I found myself having to be much more deliberate about what I was saying because I was hand-writing the letter. When you’re moving a pen across the paper, scratching out the words, you can’t select a paragraph and move it to a different place in the letter or email. The only way to do that when you’re using a writing implement is to start over or leave this big ugly marked-out section of text on the paper.
I made a similar observation, I think, as I was working on the first draft of In Plain Sight or Discoveries, noting that I thought my initial draft came out much tighter than it would when I was just typing. I can probably type fifty or sixty words a minute, and maybe a little faster in bursts, like when I’m getting on a real roll in the story. But how effective is that if I end up having to delete 300 words in the process?
What I found was that I would handwrite several pages in an hour or two—sometimes well north of a thousand words—and then edit it just slightly as I typed it up. Maybe I’ll add a word here or shift a sentence around there, but I didn’t have to change a lot of what I had handwritten, and I didn’t have to make the edits later that I usually did when working from a typed first draft. I wonder if perhaps I don’t want to go back to that idea as I get ready to start my next series? I’ve started two different drafts of a story based on Carrie Underwood’s song, “Blown Away.” One draft got to almost a thousand words before I realized it had the wrong focus.
Then again, is that a function of the medium I’m writing in, or me just not paying attention to the story I’m trying to tell? Good question.
I decided that evening when I was writing my friend was that I’m going to make a concerted effort to start writing letters to more people. I’m up to about a dozen letters written and maybe half as many received, which I feel is a pretty good rate of return, as it were. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m going to write a letter every day to different friends. I know how I work, and that kind of goal just isn’t realistic for me. But I think I could commit to writing one letter every couple of weeks. I claim people as friends whom I haven’t spoken with other than short comments on Facebook posts in years. I haven’t even emailed them. It’s time to do something about that.
Mark Twain is supposed to have said something along the lines of, “I apologize for not writing sooner, but I couldn’t find the time to write a short letter,” or something of the sort. I think what he meant was that because there is that loss of editing capability when hand-writing something, not only do you have to be more deliberate, but you also have to plan ahead. You want your thoughts to flow as coherently as possible to make effective use of your time.
I think it’s interesting that in this day of being incredibly interconnected with email, Facebook messenger, Facebook Live, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and so many other different forms of short messaging, it seems like the more ways we have to stay in touch with someone, the less coherent our message is.
I’m a huge fan of technology. I think computers are an amazing tool. I remember the excitement in my father’s voice when he first explained the idea of computers talking to one another even when he was talking about a Commodore 64 talking to another computer at 300 baud. But I wonder if maybe the increase in technology has contributed to the loss of thoughtful communication? It’s so much easier to dash off a fifteen- or twenty-word soundbite reply to a social media post than it is to sit down and write out a well-reasoned reply, stick that in an envelope, and pay someone to deliver it to your friend.
But is that fast reply being effective in saying what you were really trying to say? And if it’s not, is it really communicating?
I’m not turning into a technophobe or Luddite. But I am considering what I can do to communicate better.
So how’s everyone else these days?
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