Typing for the Write Reasons

Typing for the Write Reasons

6/29/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

    

As far as hobbies and jobs go, writing will forever be pigeonholed in the “Mundane” category. All one does is sit at a desk, pull out a funny contraption called a keyboard and move their fingers around, changing the appearance of the pixels on the screen. Composition does not come with sound effects; there are no overtimes or power plays; Microsoft Word does not come with hidden levels.* With all this in mind, is it not incredible that some people still write to enjoy themselves?

Not quite. To be honest, I can’t imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than to sit down at my keyboard and hammer away—for better or for worse. Here are my five reasons why the pencil still trumps the Playstation.

 

1: Writing is practical.

In today’s world of usability, ease of access and portability, writing has no equal. From the era of papyrus to the days of the PDA, composition has always been a simple matter. One only needs a utensil and a place to scribble it—the bathroom wall, perhaps, or a high-tech tactile monitor. Come to think of it, there’s not much that can’t be used as a writing device. Bird feathers, eye movement and airplanes have all proved adept at the task.

Can one play basketball in outer space? Can a NASCAR race take place in the bathroom? Is it possible to go clubbing underwater? The wonderful thing about writing is that it knows no boundaries: not the stratosphere, nor a canvas the size of atoms. Pencils cannot run out of power. The blue screen does not show up on paper. Soda-clogged keyboards and faulty antennas do get in the way from time to time, but there is always—always—another way to get one’s message across.

 

2: Writing is cheap.

How much money does one need to be a world-renowned painter? Though the purists may chide me for my answer, I’d say that the dollar is just as important an art tool as the brush. Top-knotch art supplies can easily fetch $1,000; Adobe Photoshop, the gold standard for digital editing, requires more than a little gold to purchase. Considering the cost of easels, paints, canvas, classes, workshops and frames, it’s little wonder that artists are stereotyped as being poor. I won’t even attempt to estimate the costs for photographers or video game fanatics.

    While cameras are worth their weight in gold, pencils are worth their weight in—well, lead. For $5.99, an aspiring writer can buy a pencil and enough paper with which to write a novel. Good keyboards can be picked up for less than $20. Microsoft Word isn’t exactly cheap, but one needn’t upgrade to the latest version if they don’t have to. In 2007, I celebrated my 10th year of using Word ’97, a program that prints out the same 12-point font, Times New Roman documents that Word 2020 probably will. (I have since made the childish decision to purchase Word ’07.)

    A great thing about writing is that the medium used has little, if any impact on the piece’s quality. The Gettysburg Address could have been written on a Tie Dye T-shirt and read off Lincoln’s back, but it still would have bought the Pennsylvania audience to tears. Thus, much to the chagrin of corporations worldwide, composition remains a frustratingly cheap endeavor.

 

    3: Writing is applicable.

    I have never understood the joke that English is a poor subject to major in. Show me the field in which writing has no role whatsoever, and I’ll show you a poor choice of a major. Astrologists and Zoologists both share the pen as one of their primary research tools, and even Oscar-winning actresses need to prepare for that infamous acceptance speech. There’s no escaping language, especially the written version.

    In sitting down to write this little article, I’m preparing myself for a life as a doctor, dermatologist or a disc jockey. The skill of writing spans almost every career in the modern world. I might not have the faintest notion of where my future will lead, but I know that the keyboard can help me get there.

 

    4: Writers age well.

    I have great sympathy for the poor souls known as professional athletes. What must it be like to reach 6 foot 2 in middle school and star for the Lakers before winding up outmatched and unwanted at the age of 33? It is a tall peak that football players reach, but I’d hate to spend the better part of my life walking down the other side of the mountain. Nor would I like to lose my job when my eyesight or biceps begin to go.

    No, I consider myself in the league of golfers and fishers: people who look forward to the days of gray hair knowing they’ll be in better shape to excel. Rarely is one’s capacity to write hindered by their age—or their physical well-being, even. Quadriplegic Jean-Dominique Bauby composed an entire book merely by blinking one eye as a scribe read out a choice of letters.

    This point is not included in a morbid sense; I don’t see my ninety-year-old self laughing and typing away as everyone else in the retirement home looks on. I merely purport that writers are an entire lifetime away from their “peak,” and happy for it.

    Is it no wonder that so many professional players become sports columnists?

 

    5: Writing is liberating.

    The sugar cube waded into the swimming pool, gawking at the bag of dry ice on the diving board.

    Was there a purpose in my writing the above sentence? Perhaps not, but I’m not about to retract it. Writing not only knows no physical boundaries, but has well eclipsed the creative fences of common sense and reality. The keyboard is merely a translator between my imagination and the screen in front of me. Whatever goes on in my mind can transpire on the page—no strings attached.

    This isn’t a universal theme for all fields of composition, of course. An editor wouldn’t like it if their foreign correspondent started to wax about the sunset in a war zone. Nonetheless, fiction writers have fewer restraints on them than skydivers—and no bulky parachute to lug around, either. I can take a story anywhere I want; I can skid off the plot line on an incoherent tangent; ich kann in ein anderes Gesprach schreibe (aber mit furchtbar Grammatik); I can even stop typing words altogether and asoetuhaoeycoeasyh. Granted, the reader doesn’t always like where I take a story and might not care for the zqjuaoeuasocyh, but I still have the sovereign right to wield the pen as I please.

    Professionals aside, most writers have no established boss or supervisor to which to answer. There is no Constitution of the English Language that stands as literary law. In the “progressive” world of writing, grammar, syntax and formatting are optional features; only creativity comes standard.

    Birds can have their wings. Astronauts can have their spaceships. With only a pencil and a notepad, I’m still freer than any of them.

    

 

 

*Actually, Word 97 came with a secret version of pinball. Anyone who still uses this program should go online to find out how to unlock this “Easter egg.”

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