Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Slo-mo Retro-Techno Combo

Because you scrutinize every pixel on this author blog, you've encountered a strange, odd, different, rare, still life background image on the home page. It shows an iPad lying on the keyboard of a MacBook. There's an Apple pencil 2 resting on the iPad that is displaying some hand-printed text. And because you scrutinize every pixel on this page, you also notice the
MacBook is open to a grammar-checking app where the text from the iPad is being analyzed.

The photo illustrates part of my writing method: I first hand write the text on the iPad, then transcribe it by typing it into the grammar checker, rewriting along the way. After that, I paste the cleaned-up digitized text into a professional writing app, Scrivener, where I continue to edit.

Highly inefficient, you say, you scions of the digital age. I hear ya. Been there.

Some of you may remember that "word processors" were made by business machine companies and used to cost up to twenty-thousand dollars. They were clumsier than WordStar or WordPerfect, the neandertalic, yet vastly superior, PC programs that replaced those pricey clunk-o-matics.

Highly inefficient, you say, to take three passes at the text, when a modern "text editor app" would have sufficed. Yep, since the Eighties, such was my method of long-form, and even short-form, writing.

But I have changed my ways after hearing an interview with an author whose work I would probably never read, though I commend him for his perspicacity. And endurance. He spoke with a NYT interviewer on the occasion of the publication of his FIFTH volume of a biography about President Lyndon Johnson. Now, LBJ was a hero, in the tragic-comic sense, but I can't imagine reading, much less writing, five (out of a promised six) volumes of his story.

What turned my writing MO around, however, was his answer to the question: "Do you use a computer to write?"

The expected reply, from a writer of such arcana, would be something along the lines of "Oh, heavens, no! I prefer a pencil and paper, the traditional, more natural way." Something old fogyish.

He didn't. He said something I immediately recognized as true:
"No, computer's too fast."

If I'm writing a bit of fluff, like this post, fast is fine. The computer gets the job done quickly and adds checking tools that keep you from gagging on my typos.

But if I'm conjuring something out of the depths of imagination, I don't need quick. I need slow. Handwriting slow. But even slower than that, which I'll get to in a trice.

The iPad app I use, Notability (there are others), enables handwriting. It's mostly used for note-taking in classes or meetings, etc. At its base, it's a drawing app that records your scribbles. With my Apple pencil, I just draw words on the screen. It's analogous to writing with pencil on paper.

On most occasions when I relate this experience, this is when people usually ask if the app then digitizes the handwriting (there are apps that do).

NO! Absolutely not. I don't want it to. I really WANT to type it all over again. Why? Because I can make changes while I'm re-thinking what I've written. It's a way to knead the clay again. Because it's true, WRITING IS REALLY RE-WRITING. What's the hurry? Where would I go instead? Why do I need "efficiency?" It's not an odious job I need to finish so I can move on to something better. It's an artistic experience, enjoyable all on its own, not dull piecework in a widget factory. I need time to live with the words, the visions, the nuances, the overtones, the surprises.

So, I started handwriting my novel.

In cursive.


Not only was my cursive illegible, but, like a computer, it was "too fast."

So I reverted to grade school-level handwriting. Early grade school. Yes, I PRINTED. Ah, now I had time to envision the words and pictures bubbling up from my whatever, imagination, I suppose. But here, in the midst of retro slow, is where faster is better. Using the high-tech Apple pencil 2, I can switch between the writing tool and an eraser and back with just light finger taps on the barrel of the pencil, allowing me to continue writing and obviating the hash of cross-outs and overprinting. It's faster than with a 3-D pencil and eraser. And no eraser crumbs.

Most of the seventy-five thousands words I've written so far for my current novel have been hand printed on an iPad first. Yes, further refinements have come from the digital tools I use to process those teased-out emanations. But to generate new material, I stick with a "by hand" process. It may take a lot longer, but I think the writing I produce is better than trying to keep up with the inane flurry of evanescent sparks that my brain produces constantly.

I'm not in a hurry to get something finished.  I want to witness the miracle of creativity that, at least for me, comes with slow-cooking the words.

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