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Putting pen to paper, or the virtues of analog writing

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by Matt Zoller Seitz
January 14, 2012 3:24 PM
1 Comment
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[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first installment in "Egg Timer," pieces written in 30 minutes or less.]

Yesterday I got into the office at my new job and realized I had forgotten the power cord to my Apple laptop.  I figured I had three options: (1) take a 30-minute subway ride home to get it; (2) buy another power cord at an Apple store nearby, or (3) walk around my new workplace like a total dork, asking, "Pardon me, do any of you people I don't know yet, and who appear to be working on Windows desktop computers, have an Apple power cord that I can borrow?"

So I decided to go with yet another option: (4) turn off my computer to save power, write the reviews in longhand on a notepad, and turn the computer on long enough to type them and send them to my editor.

I filed two medium-length reviews yesterday, both scrawled on a memo pad in longhand in black pen. Each review took me about two hours to write. I wandered off down a blind alley on the first one and ended up not transcribing one of my paragraphs once I turned on the computer. But I entered the second review almost exactly as I had written it in longhand.

A medium-length review (between 700 and 1500 words) almost always takes me the same amount of time to write, about two hours. It's been that way since I was in my twenties. Of course writing time can vary if the subject is particularly detailed or conceptually difficult, or if I am in an environment not conducive to writing, but for the most part that's a pretty reliable time frame for me.

Here's the thing, though: I found that because I was writing with a pen, I spent less time revising I went and instead spent that time thinking about what I wanted to say, because as you all know, if you write continuously for too long, your hand starts to cramp. And I probably spent more time writing, or thinking about what I wanted to write, because I was disconnected from the Internet and could not check Facebook or Twitter or my various email accounts, or my blog, or anything else online.  

When I read the two reviews on the magazine's site, they didn't seem inferior to or stylistically different from my usual. If anything they seemed a bit more relaxed and confident. I credit this to the removal of online distractions and the thinking time that I gained by deciding to compose on paper before turning on the computer to transcribe.

I'm going to try writing my reviews in longhand for a while and see what happens. I haven't written reviews that way in a long time, except for those rare instances where I had a deadline to meet and was trapped on a subway train without a computer and had to get started anyway.

If IndieWire had a longhand option, I would have handwritten this piece. But that's just as well, because my handwriting has so deteriorated from disuse that none of you would have been able to read it.

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1 Comment

  • Jason Bellamy | January 14, 2012 4:56 PMReply

    I wind up writing a lot of stuff longhand in part because I write chunks on my Metro (subway) commute. The lack of distractions (e-mail, Twitter, etc.) helps. But perhaps more significant is that when I do it longhand I actually write instead of edit and rewrite. At the computer, if I'm not careful, I can spend 30 minutes working on the same two or three sentences, constantly reworking them until it becomes some sort of personal challenge to get it "just so" even though the final version is rarely a significant improvement over what I had in the first place -- not to anyone but me, at least. When I write longhand, it feels like less commitment than seeing the word appear on the screen, which really makes no sense because it's easier to delete or rearrange on the computer. But my mind knows that this isn't "it," it's just good enough for now, and so I write forward instead of forward-backward, forward-backward, forward-backward.

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