I’m in a funny mood today. It’s early, I’ve been sitting here sipping strong coffee and thinking. I’ve also been cruising social media. Did you know there’s a kind of fungus that looks exactly like a dropped toasted marshmallow? I can’t share the photo, it’s not mine, but… What? You don’t get amazing fungus images on your social media? There are groups for that. I hang out in ones for mosses, mushrooms, wildflowers, and birds. Happy places.
But I digress. That’s a relaxation thing, not a work thing. And while I was pondering writing a post on sex symbols on the silver screen and why the sex symbols in books are different, that seems to be self-explanatory – although the divergences between readers and film geeks are interesting on other levels as well. Anyway, I’m hardly one to delve into that topic, as I grew up without television, but plenty of books. Like the ugly duckling, I imprinted early, and hard, on books. Writing… not so much. Mom talks about fighting me to get me to write more than a sentence or two until I was in my teens. I wanted to be outside, looking at wild things (see above list for a small section of them) not inside at the kitchen table writing lines. I told myself stories, sure. I didn’t write them down. Mom was also defeated in her attempt to teach me beautiful handwriting. We had to do practice sheets. I remember Spencerian, and Italic, and I can do a little calligraphy to this day. My handwriting? Hah. Yeah, that’s not pretty.
I can read my own writing, at least. Which is good, because recently I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing longhand into a lined notebook. It’s not that my muse insisted. No, it’s that I have been bored out of my mind, and it was sit and stare at the wall, or I could write. Writing on my phone would not be a good optic (and my phone battery is dying, to my annoyance since it’s not one that can be replaced easily) so a small notebook is the option. And as I type up my efforts in the evening I realized something about writing longhand. It forces me into writing shorter. Not necessarily short stories – although most of what I’ve produced in the last month have been a short, and then a children’s chapter book (still in progress. Yes, I am finally writing a children’s book! No, this one hasn’t got dragons).
The paragraphs are shorter. I think it’s because they look long on the page. A page in this book, in my handwriting, runs about 300 words. I’m not saying that left to myself writing on the computer, I’ll write 300 word paragraphs, but I suspect I have done so more than once without thinking it through. Especially if I have been reading nineteenth century literature. I have a mind like a sponge. It soaks up what I expose it to, and then when I squeeze, I get back out stuff flavored like that. I don’t think I’m the only writer to do this. What I wasn’t expecting was that the limitations of handwriting would change my composition. For one thing, my hands start to hurt after a couple of pages. This makes me choose what I’m writing a little more carefully than typing, where it takes much longer for my hands to feel the effort. For another thing, the paragraphs look bigger on the page with handwritten letters. I think this is tricking my brain into thinking ‘long enough, time for a hard return.’
It would be interesting to see if typing on a manual typewriter would change my composition too. Hm. That might make me go all noirish. Perfect for Hatrack! Sadly, I haven’t got one. No idea what happened to the machine Mom taught us to type on. There’s a reason Mom made us practice handwriting and writing longhand. You can’t teach word processing or computing when you haven’t got electricity. Or for that matter a computer. I was given a Brother Wordprocessor when I went to college. It had no memory, just a floppy disc, and a tiny little screen. It’s not the most primitive computer I’ve worked on.
And now I’m sitting here in the dark (my writing office is currently in the master bedroom) typing by touch on keys backlit in a rainbow of colors. I didn’t buy the laptop for the backlit keys, and I was NOT expecting them when I fired it up. To my amusement, this ‘gaming’ laptop has pretty bells and whistles. Which is why I named it Iris. Where was I? Ah, yes, the weightlessness of a modern writing setup. I can write here easily, or I could grab my Itty-Bitty setup of iPad and bluetooth keyboard and go sit at the kitchen table, or… I have options. I wonder how much those changes affect my composition? The notebook surprised me, it’s been so very long since I wrote anything at length by hand. But every time I have to move offices I have discovered how much those changes affect my writing. Like the standing desk – that was a disaster. Or the same desk in the main area sharing with teens *buries head in hands* or the desk that is just a little too tall and forces my hands to type at an odd angle. The ergonomics change the words, because even if I am not thinking ‘ow, ow that hurts’ I’m compensating for it.
Which brings me back to the mushroom I started out with. Sort of. I haven’t seen that one myself, and it’s a bit chilly for ‘shrooms yet although in theory it’s morel season in Ohio. No, this is more about taking breaks from the writing. Getting out, letting your mind wander, and then when you come back to the notebook, or keyboard, or however you inscribe your thoughts in a permanent fashion, you’re ready to immerse yourself into it. You need both the writing time, and the non-writing.
Header image: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) All photos by Cedar Sanderson