Jamie Todd Rubin shared his nostalgia about writing in a different time in his post titled “Writing on Paper“. He wrote about a much more tangible experience of writing and, even though I have a preference for digital, I empathise with him to a degree.
He isn’t talking about writing on paper in the sense of writing long form with a fancy ballpoint and pages of fine paper. Instead, he looks back at the satisfaction he had typing with a typewriter and seeing the pages accumulating on his desk.
In all the years that I’ve been writing on computer—and I’ve been writing on computer for far longer than I ever wrote on a typewriter—I have never found the experience to be quite as satisfying. It is physically easier for me to write on computer than it was on a typewriter. But it just isn’t as satisfying. I miss the accumulation of pages.
I don’t think I did much writing on a typewriter. My writing career began in school where most of my writing was done with a pen on paper and progressed to typing in Wordstar (or something like that) on our family PCs.
The few times I used a typewriter were somewhat satisfying. I vaguely remember the smell of a typewriter and the look of paper that had been typed on. It evokes some degree of nostalgia but not something I would necessarily want to return to.
One thing about typewriters that is appealing is that you just write. There is no messing with line spacing, font sizes or any of that stuff. As Rubin pointed out:
And besides, you can take WYSIWYG too far. Formatting distracts me from what I am trying to write. I am not trying to layout a newspaper or magazine. I’m writing a story, or a post.
This fidgety aspect of modern word processors is what drove me away from MS Word in a cold sweat. It is why I do most of my writing in plain text with MultiMarkdown. The thought of having to mess around with formatting just to write stuff makes me physically ill.
Still, I love the flexibility of digital and the prospect of all my work being fixed on sheets of paper that I can’t backup, edit and publish in minutes on the Web makes me itch.
It’s like film photography
In a way, using a typewriter and paper is a bit like going back to film photography. Digital photography makes us a little lazy. There is nothing to shooting dozens or hundreds of photos because we can filter out the ones we like and discard the rest.
When you make photos on film, you have to be a lot more deliberate about what you shoot and you don’t have that instant gratification of seeing your photo on the camera’s screen right afterwards. You have to wait for the roll of film to be processed and either have prints made or the negatives scanned. That changes the dynamic of photography quite a bit. As Om Malik put it in his post “Experimenting with film photography“:
You also can’t put a price on the lesson you learn with film — think before you shoot. Compose the photo in your mind before you try and press the shutter. And be deliberate.
I’m tempted to find some rolls of film and shoot them with my old film camera but, as with my writing, I don’t see myself replacing digital with film. The flexibility and opportunities to manipulate and share my work means I’d keep returning to digital. I shot a lot of film in school and even managed to get into a dark room a few times.
If anything, I wish I still have the negatives so I could scan them all. That part is increasingly important to me.
My romance is with the Web and with digital sharing, though, not with paper and film negatives (although I have fond memories of my time with both). At the same time, I appreciate Rubin’s words about his longing for a more tangible writing experience. There is definitely something there worth preserving in some way.
Image credit: Pixabay