Friday, June 26, 2009

The physical act and getting in touch with the words

Much has been noted before by other writers about how the way in which they write--longhand, typewriter, computer, pencil, pen, standing, sitting, in the parlor, in a Starbucks--affects they way that they connect to the words. For example, some feel that writing longhand might get you more in touch with the words while in some cases typing on a computer can create the sense of a formless void where you are living the story instead of writing it and the words come more naturally. Maybe. Everybody writer is unhappy in their own way.

Anyhow, I had an accidental discovery this morning related to this phenomenon and that adds another take. I was working on the computer but in slightly less than perfect circumstances, and I noticed as I did so that the change in the physical act made me newly conscious of the words themselves.

My computer is a laptop, but I normally have it set up like a desktop, with a full-size keyboard and mouse plugged in. (Plus full-sized speakers so I can rock out while I work.) Because of the tangle of wires and bad experiences with battery life, the laptop usually stays plugged in at my desk. But the main reason I don't move it around the house much is that I am flat-foot terrible at using the little touchpad to guide the cursor. I'm usually pretty tech-savvy and grew up saving Mario's girlfriend from Donkey Kong, but for some reason I'm like grandpa playing Pong when it comes to the touchpad. I need a mouse to get anything done.

With the nice weather this a.m. I couldn't resist working on the back patio though and had the laptop on my lap like it's supposed to be. I was working slowly through the edits on chapter two, racing against the limits of my battery life, writing in the new connective tissue, struggling like always to navigate around the screen. And after awhile I noticed that, as much as I was frustrated with the interruption of trying to make the pad respond to my touch, I was also feeling sensitive to and conscious of the words I typed and corrected in a different way. The alien physical experience was giving me a fresh perspective on the words.

In this case, I was thinking more about what came next, taking an extra beat to plan what I would type, thinking about how one word or sentence connected with another. I didn't want to misstep anywhere because of the semi-awareness of what a pain in the ass it was going to be to get the cursor back to flip a sentence around. I was writing differently because the tools I was using.

Which suggests that in a more fluid environment--with the mouse and familiar keyboard shortcuts and the hot jams blasting--that I'm probably tolerating a certain amount of sloppiness in the composition, because I count on it being easy to scoot back on the computer screen and tidy it up later. Which is probably a good habit to break out of once in awhile.

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