Monday, April 8, 2013

Tools of the Trade. Really.

For many years I have kept a journal (as opposed to a diary) in which I write things of greater moment (to me) than what I did or didn’t do today or yesterday. Most of my journaling has been in standard school composition books, although sometimes I have used smaller pocket-size notebooks or books designed for journaling. I have a travel journal, for instance, that I use when I am away from home. It was a gift from the one with whom I have traveled through life, on our first long trip out west, and I have reserved it for those times I am on the road, either with her or alone.

Recently I received a different format popular in Japan, that is smaller than I am used to, and is one continuous piece of paper, folded like an accordion to make a compact, connected whole. I’ve nearly filled one side, and will soon need to begin again with either the other side or a new book. I will probably go back to my favored composition book format. The small pages of the accordion don’t seem to give me the feeling of space that I like to fill. I imagine that a person who lives in a small country, where concepts and practices related to privacy and use of space are different, would learn an economy of words that befit a small book, but I’m a little too far along to change, I think. The format does lend itself to a kind of sketchbook, so I may use the rest of it for that.

Writers are especially particular about the tools we use. For years I wrote my first drafts on yellow legal pads, using red ballpoint pens. In those years the pens were much longer, about the diameter of a pencil, and almost as costly as a fountain pen. Today, unless you care about the tools you use, ballpoints are almost always available free. I still use them, but I like the “elderpen” version as a matter of choice. These fat and often soft-bodied instruments are easier for fingers cramped by constant engagement with thin pens and pencils.

I seldom commit a draft with pen anymore. I learned touch typing in high school, and still consider it the most valuable skill I learned there. I have gone through old uprights , as office size machines were known, portables and electrics, to dedicated word processors and desk tops to what I now consider my first tool of choice, a wide-screen laptop with a keyboard as wide as any typewriter I ever owned. Because I began when typewriters were still purely mechanical, I learned to hit the keys hard. When I’m really moving along, or when what I’m writing is drawing on my emotions, I tend to pound. I’ve broken keyboards in earlier computers, but my present one seems “combat hardened” and has given me no indication that I abuse it.

My journals, for the most part, are still hand-written. Fiction or fact, film or paper, demand a lot of thinking and planning before the words form. A journal is more a stream of consciousness exercise where one may pick apart more raw emotion and reaction. A pen, I think, provides an  almost a direct flow from writing to reading.

I still use a red pen sometimes, but that is too much like seeing myself bleed.

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