Friday, November 13, 2009

Snobbery, Guilt and the Writing Life

So...back, for a moment, to the meandering writing-about-writing essay posts instead of yet another UJTU.

For no logical reason and no personal historical reason I can think of, writing for me is a hobby which I mention in a whisper, blushing, turning away. I announce proudly that I play music, however badly; I'll happily talk about my limited crocheting skills with anyone who is interested; I blather on contentedly about my pets, the books I've read, my dabbling with calligraphy, my bike--anything and everything else. But I mention my writing habit only in passing; guiltily and slightly defiantly as if confessing to compulsive gambling or a drinking problem, daring someone to help me mend my ways.

I think it's partly for this reason that the more obvious tools of the trade--machines that can be used for nothing else--are something I have a very hard time revealing in public. I've taken my Neo with me to the coffee house dozens of times, gotten it out a handful of times, written maybe a few hundred words at best. Oh, when I took it to write-ins in Colorado, I used it a lot, when I knew I was in the company of other addicts who would overlook my flaws, but in general...I feel all eyes on me, and I want to drop through the floor. Pen and paper are a refuge in public, because I could be doing anything: homework, a journal (which seems less wrong, somehow, than "real" writing), business work. But typewriters and Alphasmarts are the tools of the author: blatant, in your face, pure writing machines. Couple that with the idea of the unmistakable look-at-me sound of a busy typewriter, and I'm terrified.

I suppose I feel like an impostor, a pretender, a poseur. And then, I tell myself, "real" writers don't need to take refuge in tools, in the romance of obsolete tools and beautiful gadgets. Real writers simply write.

Which brings me to the second portion of this mind-wandering: despite all of what I've said above, I like writing tools, particularly those that do nothing else. I get obsessed with pens and typewriters. I love the physicality of writing in analog, the smell of a typewriter and the feel of pressing the keys, the sound of them, the bell at the end of a line; I like the look of fountain pen ink drying on a page, feel of a smooth nib on good paper; I love the crinkle of pages, the heft of them. I feel like I write better with these things, write differently than I do with the current, typical tools. But is that real? Or is that a trick of the mind--do I like tinkering with them, and therefore convince myself that they work better for me so I have an excuse to use them instead of more efficient and common means? And if so, does it really matter? If it works for me, if I enjoy it, why should I care how I make the journey or what others think? But I remain afraid that I'll be seen as a snob: as pursuing a romantic notion of what it means to write, to the detriment of actually writing.

And above all, *am* I that snob? I wonder sometimes. If I completely let go of the tools and just used word processors like everyone else, would my writing really suffer? In comparing work done on the computer with work I've started on paper--one way or another--I'm not sure. I think I do better with clear drafts, but how much of that is a mental block?

Aaaand, on a somewhat lighter note, despite all of the above, I admit to spending some time over the last few days cruising eBay and what-have-you for smallish, quietish typers with the idea of, at the least, doing some outdoor typing come spring. I'm down to four portables and could drop that further, and the smallest typewriter I have with a reliable case is the heavier of the SM-9s. Not exactly easy to drag around. I've kind of been looking at Lettera 32s, despite my apathetic comments in the past re: their appearance. Too bad there don't seem to be that many of them around at a decent price...and I *never* see them locally.


deek said...

Minus the fountain pen comments, I feel like I could cut and paste this into my own typecast...

The main difference I find in using these tools and a computer is that with the mechanical tools, I finish what I write...I don't do that very often on computer.

mpclemens said...

The way I figure it, I'm just playing at writing or photography or whatever creative whim catches my fancy at the time. And since I'm playing anyway, I might as well have nice toys. :-)

Somehow, not taking it too seriously helps me to unclench the old butt-muscles just a notch or two. And that's about all I need.

I think you have a particularly strong Inner Editor that needs to be locked up for a while. I don't know if a Lettera will do that or not, but it's worth a try. ;-)

mpclemens said...

And if you need some comfort about writing-tool-obsession-guilt, read this.

A recent survey of the top 1,000 living English-language authors finds that more than 80 percent own manual typewriters averaging 43 years in age and three broken functions, with a per-unit resale value of $4.75 and slipping. Yet in a questionnaire about their response if brigands should invade their homes and demand either their beat-up old manual typewriters or their spouses on pain of death, a whopping 96 percent wrote ''Spouse.''

Little Flower Petals said...

You know, Mike, for about ten minutes that statistic made me feel really good...until I finally thought, "Wait...what?" and actually clicked the link, where I find the whole thing was a parody poking fun at us retro-nerds who cling to the supposed romance of obsolete tools. *snif*

Deek--thinking about it, I think I'm more likely to "finish" stories on the computer, but less likely to truly finish them. If I force myself to write a story on the computer, I'll get through it, sometimes much faster than I would otherwise...but then I never ever fix it as it should be fixed. I dumped a couple such things on Scribd--messy things written pretty much all in one session. I really need to take 'em down and make them real, but I get really lazy about the digital. Having definite borders between drafts can be a good thing.

mpclemens said...

Sorry LFP, didn't mean to be a downer.

There is no intrinsic magic in the machines themselves, but for the right type of person (and we are, of course, the Right Kind of People) I think they ease the Process somewhat -- we like them, they make us happy, and being happy makes the words flow more easily. It's like having your favorite cup of tea at hand while you write, or a familiar sweater or old blanket. There's nothing magical about them either -- certainly there are more efficient ways to keep warm than the ratty old college sweatshirt everyone has in the closet -- but the feelings it evokes are valuable, and we create using those feelings to focus our energies.

If I were to spend my time NaNo'ing on my laptop, my lens would be wrong -- I'd be fretting about battery life and screen angle and all those annoying little red underlines that mean I've failed Messrs. Funk and Wagnalls yet again. It give me lip, and I don't need that.

So I don't worry too much about what other people think when I'm typing: and not a one has said anything nasty to my face. If they find my process odd or quirky, touch toenails. It's MY process, and they're not invited in.

speculator said...

Yes, the tools are integral to the craft, but they need to be animated by the practitioner. And, yes, we all have our favorite tools for our own fascinating reasons.
I can certainly relate to your comments, being also a calligrapher. (Then- I have my array of bookbinding/conservation tools, also having preferences and "old friends," like Caran d'Ache graphite holders, or Olfa knives).

Most importantly, it seems, it's best to be comfortable in your pursuits. So if ya wanna go type in a coffeehouse or a railroad station or a park, do so. Or not. Do whatever gets the wheels in motion.
Remember Natalie Goldberg's recommendation about journaling in laundromats?
Favoring tools that make you want to write isn't snooty at all. It's all in the attitude.

Little Flower Petals said...

You know, part of this struggle is far more shallow than my post (shallow as that was). Part of this is due to the dual draw of the local coffee house and the typewriters. I love the coffee house--I like not being alone but not being in a situation where I have to "mingle" with a crowd, I like having life going on around me, I like good coffee and being out of the house. Last year, when I did NaNo by hand, and throughout this whole year, I've gone there pretty frequently either for an hour before work or some time on the weekends. I like it. And right now, I feel like I have to choose one or the other.

Maybe I'll take the Alphasmart to the coffee house tomorrow and make myself write for awhile, see if I can work past the self-consciousness and actually get something done if I stick it out. It'd be a good first step. But when I'm not writing by hand, I always feel like people are looking over my shoulder and reading my pathetic prose, or that I'm bugging them somehow. I need to get a life. I realize this. But it's harder said than done.

Strikethru said...

Letteras *are* elusive. I totally lucked into that one at the IPRC but it was literally the first one I'd ever seen.

I would say I recommend them except mine has a broken ribbon advance thingy, and I've never really been able to use it much. To Ace!

Little Flower Petals said...

For that matter, I wonder if Ace might have some nicely refurbished smaller typewriters for sale. They did have some of the little guys, didn't I? And perhaps again. And again.

It's about the only place one could compare and contrast many of the common models, I'm thinkin'.

I'd also bet they get in SG-1s now and again!

Little Flower Petals said...

Er...that should be "didn't they?"

But you knew that.

Duffy Moon said...

one annoying thing is that the bigger the machine, the quieter (usually). It was part of the cost of a big desktop machine to make it more soundproofed, tighter engineering and less rattling, stuff like that. Of course, new rubber goes a long way toward quieting a machine.

My Lettera 33 is pretty much a 32, but (in my humble opinion) looks cooler (YMMV, naturally).

Some other small, light machines that (for me) are pretty quiet: Adler Tippa, Cole Steel (well, it would be quiet if I replaced the rubber - I can just tell).

I can SO dig your self-consciousness. I'm so self-conscious I'm not even 100% sure of the existence of an outside world.

Little Flower Petals said...

In addition to being self-conscious, I always feel like I'm constantly irritating people just by existing. I can be in a solid traffic jam and someone four cars back and two cars over can honk and I'll instantly assume it's because of something *I* did. Hence the fear of making any noise whatsoever in public.

I'm not sure if getting out there and dinging merrily away is going to help or hurt. But I'd like to work up to finding out.