I have spent the last 24 hours trying to write, which means I have done the following:
- Stuck 30-odd photographs on a wall that I’ve decided is going to be my wall of travel photographs
- Stuffed a chicken
- Marinated a duck in a plum, basil and chilli mix
- Washed clothes that didn’t need washing
- Stared unseeingly out of my window so fixedly for so long that the people in the next apartment building actually drew their curtains.
What I do have at the end of all this is an excellent reason to write by hand, rather than sitting at the computer. When you write on that onscreen document on your computer, you type and the words appear. They’re neat, orderly and present. Then you read what you’ve written and it’s a bloody disaster. So you hit delete. And it’s gone. Whoosh. The document’s blank again.
Now let us compare this with handwriting. You write a few sentences and you feel the effort of every word you select physically. It’s literally manual labour. Unless you’re one of those annoying humans who has gorgeous handwriting, what appears on the paper is a mess. There’s nothing to inspire optimism in what you see before you. In all likelihood, it’s also difficult to read because we’re not used to reading handwriting, even if it is our own. Printed letters are more familiar to us, so should you want to ignore what you’ve written and forge ahead, it’s immensely easy to not make the effort of deciphering what you’ve written. It’s not the same with writing on the computer. If you don’t delete what you’ve written, then it sits there, unavoidable and intent upon being read. If you start a new document, then it’s pretty much the same effect as deleting: you begin all over again. If you hit Return a few dozen times and create enough of a gap so that the written lines aren’t in the scope of your vision, you’re beginning with the void. Again.
When you write by hand though, this is not a problem because handwriting isn’t as easy to read as print. This means you can deal with precisely what you’ve written later — once you’ve written enough to grapple with the fact that quality is not quantity even though it does help to have quantity (since you can’t edit an empty page).
If you’re talented, then you’ll read back what you’ve written and realise it reads well. Or you might read it and absolutely hate every single word. So you cancel what you’ve written.
This is where writing by hand reveals its awesomeness.
Strike out what you’ve written. Doodle around it. Make squiggly lines over the words so that the words underneath are never again legible (my chosen method). Do what you will, but the fact that you’ve written something, that you made an effort? There’s still physical proof of that. The pages are filled. With rejected sentences, perhaps. But filled all the same. Just like they would be with the typewriter, if that was your chosen device. Either you had the scrunched ball of discarded pages or you had lines on which ‘x’ had been typed over the originally typed words.
It’s only with writing on the computer that you place yourself in a situation in which the mistakes can be made to disappear. Most disturbingly, they’re as easy to erase as the sentences that aren’t mistakes. Write by hand and the mistakes, they’re imprinted upon something real even when you’ve rendered them indecipherable. They’re substantial. And when you get the sentences right, there’s such a sense of satisfaction at looking back at all those cancellations. These rejected lines are the map of the labyrinth you found your way through, the places you’ll hopefully never return to because here, there be embarrassing attempts at being literary. Like the forbidding hills or mythical monsters on ancient maps, your mistakes stand solid when you write by hand and once you’ve got the lines that don’t need to be cancelled, you can gaze upon them indulgently.
Needless to say, at the moment, all I have are pages and pages of cancelled lines. But hey, we live in hope.