21st Century Writing

21st Century Writing

Failed writers such as myself like to be surrounded with the tools of writing, even though we sit for hours on end doing anything but the art of composition. What writers use to hone their craft, or even to make a journal entry fascinates me, and it’s probably because lazy writers (like myself) somehow think that the tools are needed to write, not just creative energy.

I’ve wasted more time than I care to admit on choosing the right word processor, the right font, the perfect computer while all the while, neglecting to just write for the sake of writing. It’s convinced me that I actually have very little to say, which makes my situation even more depressing.

But in those moments when I don’t try lining up all the tools thinking the words will flow, my mind locks on how different writing is in this day and age. Practically everything is electronic -- so much so that I often wonder if we’ve all forgotten the art of writing. Remember grade school when you learned cursive script? Our primers had perfectly shaped letters that we were told to mimic as carefully as possible. Yet the day has long passed when we strove to have legible handwriting. Why bother when you can use a computer, and better still, use typefaces that look like hand-written script. Imagine the irony that you go to great lengths to make a computer mimic what you can spend five minutes doing on your own.

It makes me think about the future. How dry and lifeless an author’s biography will be when the writer notes that he looked at so-and-so’s e-mail messages and blog, or noted that he used a Macintosh or a Windows computer. The electronic writer will no longer have drafts with crossed-out sections or re-written lines of poetry in the margin of a pocket-sized journal. The computer screen is flat, unmoving and can erase anything in a split-second. We’ll no longer see first drafts, but rather PDF versions of a Microsoft Word document.

I’m not exactly bemoaning the presence of a computer to write, but there is something lost with all of this electronic shuffling. A font can’t tell you anything about the personality of a writer the way his handwriting can -- unless you think using a serif typeface is some deep, psychological insight. Can you picture being a biographer and trying to convey the inner life of a writer because you’ve been digging through his hard-drive? What romance is there, that sense of discovery when your letters are all in an e-mail program?

I tried to force myself to stop thinking about the tools of writing and focus my mind the writing itself. Since most of what I do is electronic-based, and I like to take advantage of what they call “repurposing” my documents, I can’t imagine anyone getting a sense of my personality beyond what they’ve seen on the screen. I hear about individuals sifting through letters, or biographies with facimiles of a first-draft and I’m filled with a sense of wonder. How awesome to be in a study, or looking at a writing desk where pen was put to paper and the words flowed. In the future, the only sense of mystery will be if a writer had an adequate power supply unit in case of a blackout.

In my vain pursuit of being a real Artiste, I bought a Moleskin pocket journal because I wanted to connect to the myriad thoughts in my head by writing them down. That was over a year and half ago, because I then spent six months searching for the right writing pen. A ball-point pen would be blasphemy! You can’t write literature or scribble down notes in a journal left for posterity with a cheap $1.25 pen! It must be a stylish pen, a fountain pen. Now, after that’s been settled, should it be my careful print or cursive? And should I write just anything, or only grand thoughts? Above all else, I have discovered the art of wasting time, all under the guise of the art of writing. History won’t care how you said anything if you’ve failed to voice it in the first place.

I think in the future, when we’re born, we’ll be assigned a permanent e-mail address that will follow us throughout our lives. We’ll be given an automatic Web site or at least, a database where the most significant aspects of our lives will be entered, including our diaries. Researchers wanting to get more specifics will e-mail you about getting access to your database across a network, faintly smiling at how they used to do research back in the day, when you’d actually go through someone’s library, or handle their well-thumbed copy of “Iliad” or the Baghavad Gita. Instead, you’ll be able to download that information to your Palm OS device, or your phone, and turn around and write your tome at the local Internet cafe. Then you’ll make a blog entry, mass e-mail 20 or so people, and wind up your project by sending a PDF file to your editor or publisher. No more feeling the weathered paper of a a journal, studying the lines of handwritten thoughts or appreciating the history of another person as they created.

It’s just cut and paste from here on out. What a brave new world.