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Putting pen to paper, or the virtues of analog writing

Writing reviews in pen

[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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