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Mars and Venus

February 22, 2010

I used to write almost exclusively by hand. There is something satisfying about filling notebooks with page after page of black, neatly inked handwriting. The sound of the pen scratching at the paper, the way the ink flows…these are magical, wonderful things that add sensual pleasure to the act of writing, albeit in a small way.

Writing by hand is slow. My hand just can’t move as fast as my brain thinks. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes certain words should never make it to the page and writing by hand helps ensure that they don’t.

Sometimes, however, I need to write fast. I hate to churn and burn (the very phrase makes me think of a horrible torture method involving a butter churner and a pocket lighter), but there are times when it’s necessary. Sometimes I just need to get something down on paper, anything at all. Sometimes I need to write without thinking. Sometimes, in other words, I need to type.

Typing isn’t without its small pleasures as well – the sound of the keys tapping away is oddly soothing to me. But it’s more mechanical. I feel somehow removed from the little letters as they pop up on the screen. Spell and grammar checks irk me as I type. No one draws little wavy lines under my hand-written words to indicate that I’ve made some egregious error.

My most creative work seems to come from hand-writing. Hand-writing allows me to slowly consider how a character looks, what he’s wearing, what he smells like. I can describe things at length, luxuriating in the description. It might take me months to finish a story, but when it’s done, I’m often very happy with the end result and it doesn’t require as much editing.

My most intensive work -i.e, days spent glued to the computer, forgetting to eat and bathe – comes from typing. Typing lets me get my plot from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The characters involved…well, they’re not too detailed. As far as I know, the characters in my type-written works have faces and bodies, wear clothes, and eat food. But they also do a lot of things. In the time it would take a hand-written character to put on his fancy silk paisley tie and trim the white hairs from his mustache while humming a bawdy tune that was the favorite of his old college roommate, Dicky, whose nickname was “Chum Scrubber” for complex and disturbing reasons…a type-written character can leave his apartment, go to work, find a dead body by the coffee machine, panic, and flee the country on an early flight. Of course, all this activity will require heavy editing later.

So which works better? Neither, I guess – or, more optimistically, both. Sometimes it’s best to be slow and thorough. Other times, it works better to be fast and maybe a little slipshod. Here is my take on the subject in verse:

Typing is from Mars, handwriting is from Venus.
The keyboard is faster than the pen is.

Nothing like a bad pun to brighten your day, eh?

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