I had a thought last night. I have a lot of them. Most aren’t worth much. I’m not sure this new thought is either. I’m sure it’s not original. Maybe everyone has had it. But I haven’t seen it written down.
It begins with something Lana told me. She was contrasting her strategy for taking photos back in the ‘film’ days with the digital world of today. She said that with film, because of the cost and inconvenience, she tended to take few pictures and spend much more time framing each to try and make them good. With digital she doesn’t do much of this. She takes ‘lots’ of pictures, downloads them to her computer, and then weeds out the good from the worthless. Digital pictures are cheap to take and don’t need “development” time.
It occurred to me that something similar has happened with writing as we moved from the typewriter era into the computer/word processing era. I’m old enough to have written on a typewriter. I wrote college essays and papers on an electric. I wrote some stories and poems, and even a novel that will never see the light of day. I used my first word processor in graduate school and that is when my writing really took off.
Writing with word processing software makes it easy to generate lots and lots of words, then go through and weed out those that don’t work. I spent much more time thinking about the words I was going to use back when I wrote on a typewriter because I didn’t want to go through the arduous process of correcting and rewriting. I also typed slower and more carefully to avoid errors that would have to be corrected.
These days, I slather words down and do a lot of my thinking on the screen. I try out all different ways of saying things. I often end up saving several drafts of stories, those that are close to finished, or those that have variant endings. I like having these and sometimes go back later and think I chose the wrong ending for one I sent out. I also continue to rewrite stories even long after they're done. I save the published version as is, but I may still revise words, sentences, paragraphs and endings.
Computer word processing software has allowed me to do this, and without it I’m sure I’d have no writing career at all. I also know, though, that the ease of writing on a computer can be a trap. A lot of the words that go down easily aren’t the right words in the right combinations. There’s still a lot of work to be done weeding out the good from the bad. In that process is where the art lies.