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Choose your tool: The physical experience of writing

By Harriet Staff

On the DMLCentral blog, John Jones takes issue with a recent Telegraph article that claims Twitter has made handwriting cool. Besides having nothing to back up the claim (“Twitter” being no more than a stand in for “social media” in general), Jones felt that pitting against each other the two forms of tools, “modern” and “ancient,” sets up a false binary and characterizes the act of physically writing longhand as rebellion instead of personal preference.

Rather, the question is how these activities bring some people joy, and how that sense of pleasure impels them to write. There are numerous examples of authors who develop similar attachments to other writing technologies. Paul Auster has written a book-length essay on his relationship with his typewriter, and the novelist Richard Powers dictates all of his writing. In each case, these authors sometimes describe their attachment to their preferred writing technologies and their writing process with the same sort of ardor that Braddock relates from his handwriting aficionados.

Much has been written about the role that digital tools can play in educating people about poetry and encouraging the act of writing, most recently in former UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s Motion Report on the state of poetry in schools. Jones posits that perhaps the focus on one particular type of tool is itself the problem when there is such a huge variance in the way that students learn and writers write.

Perhaps what schools need is a kind of library of technology, a collection of notebooks, pencils, and fountain pens, electric typewriters and word processors, and other technologies that students can experiment with to find what physical experiences motivate them. How else will students know what technologies best fit their learning styles if they are forced to write everything out by hand (or type everything in a computer)? Some students may find that they do their best note-taking with pen in hand, enjoying the period of rediscovery when they read through them again later, while others may want to type those notes directly into their computers where they can be archived and searched, and accessed via mobile devices. Braddock points out that Moleskines don’t make one more creative; rather, they make one “feel more creative.” Can there be anything wrong with encouraging this feeling in writers?

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, December 16th, 2010 by Harriet Staff.