No, You’re Analogue! A Writer’s Strategy

The process of reclaiming the title of storyteller was not entirely an easy one. Not only was I committing myself to a project with a fairly large scope, but I was also making myself accountable to another human being (who just so happens to be a very good friend). Combining that with the difficulty that comes with any artistic or creative process meant learning how to write all over again.

When it came time for me and Luke to start work on Charlotte’s Journey, I sat down at my computer and opened up a google doc. I stared at the blinking cursor for a few minutes. I had ideas I wanted to communicate with Luke, hopefully some good stuff, all of it half-formed just waiting to be set to the screen. But, in that moment, I was struggling with something akin to imposter syndrome.

When not destroying furniture, this thing is busy walking on the keyboard
When not destroying furniture, this thing is busy walking on the keyboard like she owns it.

The computer screen in front of me did not feel like a blank page. I did not feel like a writer sitting at a laptop so much as what I thought a writer should be. I was reminded of being an academic (something that I always felt like I was faking) and writing papers. I was taken back to a warm spring morning in Toronto, sitting on a white leather love seat picked to pieces by The Cat, tabs open in my browser to various neuroscience journals, Bubba Ho-Tep paused on the television, piles of books with ragged tags and ends of TTC transfers marking important passages. A mug of cold coffee, a YouTube video, beer cans and wine bottles from Friday night, a few LEGO minifigures… me at the height of my academic prowess, unshaven face, dirty T-Shirt and all. In short, google docs reminded me of the last time I did any serious writing, and I hated it.

There is something about the challenge of expressing the ideas I had in school that I really enjoyed. Writing a paper gave me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction like solving a puzzle or completing a difficult crossword. Papers always felt good to finish. There were my ideas, fully formed and (hopefully) clearly articulated! But unlike a crossword, I took no joy in actually writing academic papers. My goal with Charlotte’s Journey and Adventures in Storytelling at large is to DO — to take action — but it seems damn foolhardy to dedicate myself so fully to something I don’t enjoy doing.

I kept staring at the blank google document and thought back to my younger days. When I was eleven years old, what made writing The Monstrosity so much fun? Why did I take so much pride in Lazer Beams Quartze Crystals and Spanish Onions (sic)? What was it about the stories I wrote in adolescence that made them special and fun to write?

They were analogue.

When I wrote them, I actually wrote them. I went old school: pen, paper, and enough light to see by. Those stories went everywhere with me and became careworn enough to show it.

So, I closed my laptop, I found a pen and some paper, and I started writing for the first time in years. Story outlines, chapters, short stories, even stuff that had nothing to do with Charlotte’s Journey or Adventures in Storytelling (such as the popular short fiction Weregoat) started to flow in very real, actual, literal ink. I found myself enjoying what I was doing and I haven’t looked back.

For the first time in my life, I used a pen until it ran out of ink
For the first time in my life, I used a pen until it ran out of ink

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I have come to understand why I enjoy writing analogue. First of all, it eliminates distractions. Look back at the warm spring morning I described above. What essential element is missing from the scene? The paper itself (“The Forgetting Forgotten: Pathological Memory Loss and Identity in Bubba Ho-Tep“). Living in the digital age has given us a vast array of research tools and entertainments in the palm of our hand. Add that to the regular, tactile distractions that permeate our world, and focus can become incredibly elusive.

Secondly, analogue writing forces me to be less critical in the moment. The digital age has also given us powerful editing tools, google docs among them. When I was writing for school, I trained myself to edit as I wrote. I would hammer out a sentence or two, then use the backspace key with impunity. I would tweak and twist sentences as they came, trying to make my paper as perfect as possible on the first pass. As a result, I never wrote a second draft. The blinking cursor in google docs is too much a temptation. When writing digitally, I have the power to make a story better even as I write it, which invariably trips me up. I get so caught up in making a turn of phrase or bit of dialogue work just so that I don’t make any progress on the actual story whatsoever. Writing with a pen lets me plow forth, errors be damned! It let me wade in bravely because I have the power to edit when I take the paper and copy it, meticulously, into a word processor. Writing analogue allows me to have the discipline to put the story to paper in an imperfect form. I can always fix it later, that’s what second drafts are for!

The world has seen fit to give me tools that are designed to make my job as a writer easier. The laptop I’m sitting at, my smart phone, a backspace key, a google search toolbar… They are incredibly useful and incredibly powerful, but in giving me so much, they also robbed me. Using a computer to write a first draft takes away my focus and my discipline, and those qualities must be present before I’ll get any real utility out of my keyboard.

Am I saying throw out your computer? Of course not! I’m a huge advocate for using every tool we have available to make the best art we can. But I am suggesting you consider when to use tools judiciously, lest you let the distractions of the modern world keep you away from accomplishing your goals. I happily use the old pen and paper. The next time somebody accuses me of being analogue, I will say with pride: “Yes, I am.”

(I will admit that hand cramps are a problem, though.)

2 thoughts on “No, You’re Analogue! A Writer’s Strategy”

  1. I’m super analogue myself—I love the tactile sensation of physical pieces working against and with each other to create a spectrum of stimuli, from sound, sight, smell, and feel. Graphite running down a blank page, the minuscule hills and valley of the supposedly flat paper tearing bits from the pencil and forever staining the pristine white surface… Ah, bliss. 🙂

    But I can’t write by hand.
    Nope. Just can’t do it.

    I find that my hand CANNOT go fast enough to keep up with my ideas. My thoughts are flying by at a 120 kilometres an hour and my hand is on board but shackled to its own manual power that just cannot keep up. Combined with those frustrating hand cramps, and I find that even though I have a really good idea for the second half of this sentence I’m just going to stop here because reasons. And then that great idea is lost forever in the dark abyss of my mind.

    So I cherish your ability, James, to pull pencil and paper from the drawer and proceed to create. I’ll continue to take copious notes for myself in that form, but when it comes time to actually create—give me an outlet, a keyboard, and that flashing cursor.

  2. Honestly, I’ve toyed with the idea of ‘writing’ by diction. Its really the only way to get ideas out real-time. I just don’t want to deal with transcribing my own stuttered words.

    We can argue about whether typing is faster than writing ’till the cows come home, but honestly I think if we got a stop watch and actually looked at the time taken when you factor in things like a pause to consider something, the difference would be fairly negligible. The problem is something is interrupting the flow, whether it be the perception that your manual dexterity is slower than your thoughts (it isn’t – especially with practice and an untidy scrawl like mine) or that useful tools are a distraction (with discipline, they aren’t).

    Ultimately, when you get into the mind-space where what you are writing flows, time ceases to matter. I guess this article and Luke’s comment are about what works when looking for that flow. It just goes to show that the same destination can be arrived at regardless of the route taken.

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