Friday, October 6, 2023
It’s been exactly seventeen days since I started my analog writing experiment. Normally I’d wait a little longer before reporting back on something that I just started, but technically I didn’t “just” start it. I’ve been doing it since I was 13, with some years off for bad behavior (ie: typing instead). So you could say I just restarted it.
And it’s been so striking that I couldn’t wait.
But first… a side note.
The whole thing really began a long time ago when I was fed up with technology and thought I really should go back to writing on paper. But like most things, it stayed in my brain where it was useless to me.
Fast forward to my birthday when my friend Kaarina sent me some really cute notebooks. I petted them a bit then put them into my Box Of Things To Use One Day, thinking I really should go back to writing on paper.
Fast forward to seventeen days ago when for whatever reason technology triggered me so much that I decided to boot the unnecessary bits from my life.
That was when I actually went back to writing on paper.
Now we are here, and as of today I have completely filled up one entire notebook that Kaarina gave me. And none of it was writing blogs.
I’m so giddy about it that I can hardly find the words to describe the words.
In my Box Of Things I also have many, many pencils. I have fat ones and thin ones, tall ones and short ones. Some are colorful. Some have no erasers. Some have these cool movable erasers that slide into the top so you can pull them out when they get too low. Some write in dark, heavy lines. Some in thin smooth lines. I also have little blue erasers and big white ones. I have a couple of pencil sharpeners, tiny ones that make beautiful wood shavings in little curls.
I love paper and pencils.
I do not like pens. Pens are for school work when you had to turn in an essay and pray you didn’t make a mistake and have to start over.
Side note: can you IMAGINE writing essays by hand?? We actually did that.
Anyway, since the very first word I ever wrote in pursuit of writing, I have always written in pencil.
Pencils just feel good. The smoothness of them, the roundness of them, the real wood of them.
I read on the internet, and you know the internet is never wrong, that a pencil can write about 45,000 words. Since a notebook is not a Word document and I am not about to count them, I can neither confirm nor deny this. But… it would certainly mean I’ve written a lot of words in my life, if the number of pencils consumed is anything to go by.
John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway (because clearly I am among greats) both used pencils to write their masterpieces. Truth, myth, or more likely some combination of, East of Eden was composed with a mere 300 pencils.
They please me even more knowing that.
But wait, it gets better. I found this quote that comes from a letter John Steinbeck wrote to a friend:
My hands have to keep busy. I have to hold a pencil in my fingers. I need to write some pages every day. … On the third finger of my right hand I have a great callus just from using a pencil for so many hours every day.
ME TOO! The middle finger on my right hand is permanently deformed. I love it.
I also discovered, to my delight, that he also loved Blackwings… the exact pencil I have been writing with in my notebook, the one with the moveable eraser.
There is something so luxuriously tactile about holding a pencil. It makes me happy.
So writing with them these past seventeen days has been sublime.
As for paper, I am marginally less particular. I prefer it to be slightly grainy, not-so-white, and definitely lined. But my notebook of choice for the vast majority of my life was the 89¢ spiral notebook I got at CVS. They are probably about twelve bucks by now, but back in the day the cheapest notebook I could find was the best notebook.
I almost never had a “journal” or anything with a fancy cover, unless someone bought it for me, in which case I usually put it in my Box Of Things Too Nice To Use. Eventually I got over that and used them, but still always reverted right back to the simplest notebooks.
Tangent story: about six hundred years ago when I thought I’d be a world famous novelist, I started writing a book. I remember it to this day, the silliest of stories about some girls getting kidnapped then rescued by the big handsome boy next door. The key point is how I wrote it: in pencil, on a ream of paper meant to be fed into a dot matrix printer. The kind of paper that was attached at the perforated edges and unfolded like an accordion.
I wrote up one and down the other right to the end of that ream. It was very Jack Kerouac of me.
So writing with paper and pencil has me delirious with joy right now.
A couple of times as the days have passed, I found myself automatically opening my old Word document. And when I caught myself doing that I immediately closed it again and pulled out my notebook. Not because I had to check a little habit box or because I was doing an experiment, but because I wanted to.
Writing on paper is a deliberate exercise. I have to pick up a pencil and sharpen it. I have to purposefully form words instead of merely pounding them out as quickly as possible while backspacing over the typos.
The number of typos I actually make has been reduced by about 97% and even when I misspell or my brain goes faster than my hand, erasing is so much more pleasant than pounding the delete key twenty times.
The mistakes I do make are my own. Not the keyboard sticking or autocorrect getting the word wrong or the mouse jumping to the wrong side of the page. Not the document deciding to close itself or the computer deciding to glitch.
Words written in pencil on a page look organic and pleasing, not like rigidly digitized Nazi rows.
Even mistakes are pleasing. Sometimes I overwrite them instead of erasing them. Sometimes I leave them. Who cares if anoying is missing a letter? It’s all mashed together anyway, and there are no little scolding red squiggles to admonish you that something is wrong. The imperfection is part of it, not a thing to correct but a thing that adds humanity.
When I write with pencil on paper I can actually think. I can’t write as fast as my brain races, so I’m forced to slow down and make sense of it before it comes out of my fingers.
Sometimes… wait for it…. I SKIP a thought and don’t bother writing it down at all. I don’t need a running commentary of every word that runs through my head. I need to write.
It’s been seventeen days and I am not going back to the Word document. Writing with pencil and paper has been the most calming, relaxing, peaceful thing I’ve done in a long time. It actually makes me feel sane.
I’m tempted to write all my blogs by hand and mail them to the three people who read this.
Speaking of blogs, I said that I don’t write them in my notebook, which is true. But the seeds of them are there. Now that I have a minute to sit down and reflect on what I want to say, and do it in a purposeful way, I’ve had a lot more actual ideas. I’ve had a lot more time to think about those ideas and to give them life at the tip of a pencil.
And then I come here and pound out several thousand words in a frenzy and send them into the world.
But… that’s not entirely true, either. Since writing on paper even my typing has slowed down. It feels a little less frenetic somehow, now that I’ve realized it’s ok to think instead of mount a blitzkrieg.
For anyone who needs a moment of peace in their lives, I highly recommend getting yourself a Blackwing and an 89¢/$12 notebook. You don’t even need to be a writer. And if you don’t know what to say or run out of thoughts, just do what I’ve been doing and draw little rainbows and stars. It’s surprisingly agreeable.
Photo: One book filled, the next ready to go. My favorite Blackwing pencil. And look at that pretty little shaving!