Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pen is Mightiest

by Hannah Roveto

For anyone excited to read a review of powerful writing that seeks to correct wrongs and fight injustice, my apologies. I like that idea, perhaps a kernel for a future post, but that's not what's got me going. Instead, come with me to a modest gray-shingled Cape a short walk from the ocean, emerald grass across its front lawn, catbirds mocking each other in the trees.

Our Writer sits at her computer, iced coffee in hand. The morning is warm, the silence promising. She turns on the computer, excited about having created two hours to fill with ideas and poetry. Or at least, a last round of revision.

"Fatal execution error."

(Dear reader: Fill in this blank with the word of your choice.)

"Press okay if you want to continue." Does she? Sure, why not. A large message screen pops up, threatening to eliminate all that lies behind the glass. "Continue" is still an option, teases the computer. Our Writer does want to continue, but knows this is a trick question.

What the heck. Nothing bad happens, although the Internet connection doesn't work, which is fine as the antivirus software is sending a warning to the screen every two minutes saying it is shut off and can't go back on. A quick call to the boss means there may be even more time to write, as no emails will get through, no research can be done.

Our Writer turns off the computer, prostrating herself before the Muse for inspiring her to back up the WIP a day earlier, an infrequent occurence. She pulls out... a pad of paper and a pen. Our Writer heads down the hall to curl up on the sofa, coffee moved to still be within reach. She goes through the outline of her manuscript and notes she has made as to small changes that need to be made. Over two days, as the Dell is nursed back to reasonable health, pages of lined paper covered with blue ink are written over in black ink, red ink, pencil, until everything from dozens of scraps of paper are all compiled into one source. The result is satisfying; a feeling of accomplishment and preparedness makes Our Writer woozy with delight.

In fact, those two days of pen and paper leave a fond memory that almost overshadows the frustration with technology. The feel of pen in hand, the smooth hush of paper, the corner of the sofa with its soft pillows. She thinks of authors who write everything longhand the first round; could that be a possibility for the next project? Perhaps. For the pen is not only mightier than the sword, it has proven itself mightier than the computer. And these days, that is saying a great deal.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

I love writing longhand--a nice ink pen (no mere Bic for me!), fresh legal pads--practically makes me swoon. The first draft of my first novel was written entirely that way--and I highly recommend it. Somehow, it feels closer to the vein.

But, I'm glad your computer was fixed . . . and that you'd backed up your WIP.

mohanley5 said... stomach dropped for you...I've had that happen too, way back when I first started writing...I lost everything, and had to start from scratch [which I now know was a good thing].

Now, everytime I write, I save on the hard drive, also on a thumbdrive, and then I email it to myself...neurotic? You bet!

I also did a lot of writing for a laywer over the past year, and saved the same way...good thing, because when his computer blew up 2weeks before trial(yes, really, when he plugged it in, it popped, then smoked and died...) I had his whole case saved in email and a thumb drive.

Enjoyed your wishes with your queries...would love to buy your book!

Anonymous said...

Pen to paper. It seems so much like a thing of the past. I shall have to try it more often...

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I might follow your lead, Judy, in working longhand to start -- although how to show pages to the Group? Have to figure that one out! Good for you for saving the day, Mo, with that backup. I was lucky this time, or maybe sensed all was not well. Ugh. Am going to back up every comma change now! It was definitely nice to plan out what I had in my head by writing it out, making notes, getting back to that vein. I highly recommend pen to paper, even for an exercise; certainly don't wait for an emergency!


Larramie said...

The Muse was watching over you in more way than one, Hannah, and -- without doubt -- this WIP must be a keeper.

Anonymous said...

I didn't even blanch when I saw your "Fatal error" message. I've been well trained. I was given an old Gateway laptop, for which I am eternally grateful. However, knowing that it is circa 1998, I back up every time I shut down and even if I just put it to sleep (now there's a concept!) for a lunch break.

Some days it take four or five tries to get it to boot up without some fatal error. (They really aren't so fatal.)

It was hard to find a thumbdrive that worked with a system that old, so I'm careful with that, too. I also use Google Documents for a backup, although not religiously. Seems easier than emailing and you can work right in there, anywhere you have the Internet, which my old laptop doesn't have. So I also back up to the desktop computer (that I share) and from there to Google.

Pre-laptop, I wrote everything on paper, then typed into the computer when I could get time on it. I love writing by hand (though retyping is a pain). It slows me down and makes me compose a full sentence before I start. But I like the computer for just spilling my guts onto the page without wasting paper. Then I can go back and keep the good and toss the bad.

I also have a manual typewriter, which I figure will come in handy when our infrastructure goes completely bust (though I suppose it'll be hard to get ribbons for it). Love the clicky-clack of the keys and the sheer strength it takes to use it.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Larramie. And Kira, I love how you balance the tech with the real thing. I own a manual, too, an old one with the round keys. I love that thing. Anyone else with an old black metal dinosaur on a shelf or in a closet?


Anonymous said...


What a beautiful post - what a way to handle a fatal error! I almost threw my computer out the window when I got mine...not my best moment.

There is something very powerful about writing long-hand. For me, it relates to a stronger connection between the paper, my body and my evocative right brain. Somedays it pays to just say no to the computer!

Thanks for a great post!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Amen to saying no. I feel that way about the cell phone more strongly than I do about the computer, truth be told. My work clients know my cell is "the world is crumbling" point of contact (so they email, so I'm on the computer all the time... ah well!).