Technologies of Writing

Jonathan and I were talking the other day about how David Foster Wallace did his writing with pen and paper:

Wallace worked longhand, pages piling up. "You look at the clock and seven hours have passed and your hand is cramped," Wallace said. He'd have pens he considered hot — cheap Bic ballpoints, like batters have bats that are hot. A pen that was hot he called the orgasm pen.

Apparently in another article, something Jonathan had read, Wallace said something else about his choice to write with pen and paper, that his writing was better -- more complex and insightful -- when done with pen and paper than on a computer. Then I find this passage in Betty Friedan's autobiography, Life So Far, a great book, I might add. Friedan was in the process of writing The Feminine Mystique and had a writing carrel at the New York Public Library, where she stored her typewriter. One night after the children were asleep, she had done some reading and took out a pen and legal pad to write (p. 113):

On the living-room couch, I started writing the third chapter of The Feminine Mystique, "The Crisis in Woman's Identity," applying to myself, and the women I'd been interviewing, basic concepts about the self, and identity crisis, as they had not been applied to women. And I got to such a different level of thinking, writing by hand on the yellow legal pad that night -- the crucial chapter in The Feminine Mystique, where I spelled out how it had happened to me personally, a truth that other women could identify with -- that I have literally not touched a typewriter since, let alone a word processor.

I might have to give pen/paper a try, even though it sounds soooo tedious.


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i tend to think that my best writing does come form handwriting... if i could just read it.... heh.

In fact, this was explained to me by an elderly gentleman from Notre Dame who was flying home from Milan after being in Rome. He was sitting next to me and pulled out several blue books and started writing. I was grading on my computer and eventually we struck up a conversation on the topic of writing. He explained that he has found that writing was easier and better when he wrote by hand. He said that he was right handed, which if we take bicameralism at face value is that his left brain is far more creative and meaning filled, which is very easy to work with when it does not have to compete with the right brain controling the left hand while typing. Given the interfaces between the brains impedes the performance of both, typing slows and hampers the ability of the brain to actually do what it needs.

For instance, I found two senior professors who have told me that they found out that they were much more productive and interesting when they stopped writing and started just recording and typing up their speaches. That turned out to be their most productive years was when they stopped typing in their creative efforts and started talking them. You would probably know the names of the professors, both are quite famous and the stories came out separately.

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