Step 1. It begins with a pen …
When my brother was going through design school, there was a hidden rule that you begin any design process with thumbnail sketches in pencil. Once, he turned in a project that he did entirely on computer–he had skipped the pencil.
The instructor looked at the project and asked, “Did you go right to computer on this one?”
He could tell …
Like any design process that begins with a pencil, to me writing must begin with a pen.
I think better in ink, as if the thoughts are flowing out of my heart, down the bloodstream through my arm, spreading to the hand and flowing out the nib of the pen as ink.
Maybe this is what Hemingway meant that to write one must simply cut a vein and bleed.
The writing must flow first as ink, then undergo typing. Writing fast in ink helps me flow the ideas. I’m not concerned about getting it ‘right’ or pushing out perfectly polished prose. At this stage the writing is just that–writing. And when it’s 6am and I’ve only got 30 minutes to write for the day before heading off to work, I can’t be concerned about polished. All I want to do is get as many words on the page as possible. Don’t judge it, just write it.
Step 2. Typing is really what creates the occasion for reflection.
Preferably I would go to typewriter. I bought one recently and found it really awkward at first. I was so used to little ‘pizza box’ keys on my iPad typepad that I couldn’t handle the full on dexterity needed to type on a manual typewriter. The typewriter is slower and more kinaesthetic, more visceral (‘instinctual, gut, deep down’) than a computer keyboard–you’re literally pounding the words and impressing them into the paper.
The carriage has a finite beginning and end point and must manually be returned to the beginning of the next line. This act of manually moving the carriage back to the next line slows down the process of typing; you must reflect on the writing, find your way back on the page, and continue where you left off when you heard the little bell chime at the end of the line. You need to reflect on the writing while typing it.
Cascading sheets of type …
Another important aspect of the typewriter is the document emerges right away. When you have completed the page, there is an actual material document that is unfurled from the carriage of the machine. It’s so easy to have documents or manuscripts sitting on your desktop somewhere that need to be printed out. I like watching the pages accumulate as I pull them from the carriage, and then the beauty of inserting that new crisp sheet of paper into the typewriter, snapping the page number top centre, hitting the lever a couple of times to get down into the body of the page, then striking those keys again to produce the first word.
Typewriters don’t do Instagram
There is no distraction with the typewriter–you are freely present for the writing, for the words, for the impression of thoughts onto paper. You feel your body while you type–it is an act of intent that goes right down to the tips of the toes.
Once the page is ‘type-set’, you can see the words and how they express the thoughts; you can see the flow of ideas and where there’s congruence and incongruence. And if it’s been typed by typewriter you can see how the ideas are shaping part by part. You can see where large portions of the text hang or fit together or not. You can then edit by pen, going through on a bird’s eye view.
Step 3. Typing the 2nd draft into the computer.
This is like leaving the country roads to the fast lane of the highway. It is a return to the initial vision. It’s like coming home from the mountains along the highway: you’ve seen all you need to see, and want to enjoy the pace of the highway.
Typing on the computer is infinite–it just flows. You’ve done all the hard slow work. This iteration is all about getting another look at the manuscript and by necessity getting it onto a computer where it can be published, sent off to people to proof-read, etc.
The fast work is justified by the slow work that preceded it.
It was Toni Morrison who got me thinking about the process of slowing down. For her, going to computer too early gives you the illusion of writing well: the words are flowing mellifluously and rapidly and they’re all well-formatted which can easily give you the illusion of erudition.
And it was Hemingway who inspired me to consider three eyes on the writing: first, for him, by pencil, second by typing, and third by editing and retyping. There are other writers who have used a version of this approach.
The Art of Slow
The importance for me is working to increasingly slow down. Our world is too fast-paced; technology allows us to speed everything up–even movies. We whip up emails and blog posts in minutes. There’s an importance for all of us writers and artists to master language and communication, and take the time to create well. This may take some less time than others.
I’m not saying this approach is for everyone. But for me, where I want to think deeply and work reflectively, this three part process has been very helpful.
Looking at the work as beginning manually in analogue before going to a digital platform helps you move slowly enough to combat the impact computers and high-speed technology have had on our creative process.
Thus the act of writing, of creating, becomes as it ought to be: reflective and iterative.