Monday, November 24, 2008

The Help of Computers

Rachel has decided to tackle NaNoWriMo and write a novel in the month of November. She told me yesterday that today she is headed to Panera to write today. She cannot write in the house. Too many distractions.

I was raised in an era of typewriters. Computers were machines that took up whole buildings. In college, the idea of a computer that would sit on a desk (on a desk? a whole computer???) was just beginning to come into vogue. I remember the secretary at the church in Wautoma having to type and retype and retype letters to people: sometimes because she made a typo that couldn't be fixed and thus she started over, sometimes because there was one line in each letter which needed to be adjusted for the recipient (such as which position that person was serving as a church officer). The word-processing typewriter (which had some memory in it) was such a time-saving blessing!

I don't know now how I could function with writing the old-fashioned way. It's so easy to make corrections on the computer, to adjust words, to tweak paragraphs, to plop an extra thought into the middle of a sentence. The words flow from my fingertips onto the keyboard in the way that the words once, long ago, flowed from my pen onto paper. And unfortunately, the words no longer flow from pen to paper so easily.

I am old enough that I think of computers primarily as something that, well, computes, for the bank, for the credit card companies, for the colleges ... and as a word-processor. I am beginning to see the computer, though, the way the younger generation does: as a way to keep in touch with those who are miles away, as the world's file cabinet of interesting information, and maybe even as entertainment.

And thus I find it fascinating that Rachel is leaving her computer to write. She is headed to Panera with her pen and notebook. (That is, a spiral-bound notebook, with white paper with pale blue lines. Not a computer the size of a notebook.) The distractions of home --the housecleaning, the cooking, the cats-- and the distractions of the computer --email, blogs, Facebook photos, games, etc-- prevent her from writing. The very computer which eases the process of writing is the exact same thing that distracts her from doing the work.

Somehow, when I hear some of the older pastors speak about the young pastors spending too much time on the computer, I can see how it's hard to balance the time-saving aspects of the word-processor with the time-wasting aspects of online socialization and gaming.

And I think Rachel has probably discovered the only real solution. Putting distance between herself and the machine.


  1. Wow, good for her. I'm impressed. I can't write with pen and paper anymore, either. For me the answer would probably be a computer without a wi-fi card so that it could only be used as a word processor instead of a window to the world.

  2. I managed 3500 words in 4 1/2 hours at Panera! The only downside I'm finding to using the pen and paper is the pain.

    My arm- though MUCH improved with massive rest, gentle exercise, and several ergonomic stuffs for the computer (darn that stupid EVIL place that wouldn't listen when I pointed out that my work station was causing me pain)- aches. Constantly. All the way from my wrist to my elbow, and up my bicep.

    BUT! I have less than 16,000 words to go! I might still make it!

  3. "And unfortunately, the words no longer flow from pen to paper so easily."

    Actually, more me... All of my thoughts at least start on pen and paper. There is something (I think) about typing that is not as conducive to the imagination. The way the brain works when typing as compared to when moving a pen across paper does seem (to me) to be different.

    Maybe psychologists and stuff would disagree with that, I dunno. And I certainly reach a point where I need to get on the computer to finish things. But if I don't start on paper, I usually just plain don't start. And it has very little to do with distractions for me (I only read your blog, I have no games on my laptop, only one web comic I visit, no e-mail lists, and I check the news).

    I saw the beginning of a movie Katie was watching about Jane Eyre, and she was writing on paper with an old ink pen. Just seeing that got my imagination going. And I found myself suddenly jealous of her...

    I don't know how else to explain it, but I really think we've lost something by using computers to type up everything. I really, honestly think there's something to writing on pen and paper which gets the brain doing something totally different than it does on the computer...