Saturday, March 21, 2009

Paper? Or Screen?

paper or screen ?--the medium on which a writer composes; variously lined legal pads, three by five index cards, computer screens.

If you are of a certain age, the implications of the title of this entry will provoke an animal-like noise resembling exasperation. How dumb is that? No one writes on paper anymore. Paper is something you stack into a printer to print words you have composed on a computer.

If you are a certain other age, an age where you can still remember preferences among Remington and Olivetti and Underwood, an age where the print ball on the Selectric was still a novelty. You wrote on such instruments because your handwriting was so terrible, and because everyone who wrote to be published worked on one of these, whether they could use the so-called touch system or, like you, had to be content to live with rows of X's used to block out unwanted lines

If you are yet another certain age, you probably remember DOS and WordPerfect. Even though your printer then was dot matrix, with a draft and a final copy setting option, you felt the surge of progress inherent in the move away from the typewriter, along with a sense that writing was going to be transformed into something easier, something that would allow you a more direct contact with your material (whatever that means). Being of this age, you can identify places on your body and psyche attesting to the fact that being computerized did not make writing any easier; you were simply giving up typewriter ribbons and those rascally thin mylar tapes associated with the early electrics and the Selectric. These no longer unravelled or tangled or simply ran out of ink. But until then, you had never had to deal with crashes, freezes, diskettes, or such words and practices as burning or ripping.

Writing not only did not become easier, you were discovering, thanks to modems and printers, even more remote sites on your planet of frustration.

Nevertheless. All these potential or actual memories dance around the issue of why anyone with today's equipment and gadgetry at hand would want to compose on paper in the first place. Paper is so New York publishing, which is to say tanking the way they are doing it. Nevertheless, if you are of a certain age, there is the heft and smell and convenience of a book because that was what got you doing what you do in the first place, writing things on paper to preserve the material prior to shipping it off to its fate, which also involves paper.

Thanks to Microsoft Word, iPages, and the no-nonsense new kid on the block, Open Office, it is theoretically possible to get your words down on the screen, save them, submit them, have them edited via the Track Changes tool, accept or reject various edits as you will, and not touch paper until your author copies arrive in the mail. It is also possible to indulge your early, before computer, muscle memory by doing your first draft on a lined legal pad before you begin the revision process, at which point you'd do the actual keyboarding onto your very own hard drive.

There is no correct answer to the question posed here. Sooner or later, you'll want to capture the keystrokes (notice how easy it is to pick up the lingo), thereupon to back them up on your Time Machine if you're a Mac person or the likes of Mozy or Novastor for the PC user, plus for both the added off-site use at Google and Yahoo. Until the sooner or later, you can use a flash stick to save each day's increment, email it to your gmail or Yahoo account, and/or download it to your Lacie external hard drive.

A new work day begins and during the course of it, you experience a mild disillusion with your chosen point of view or your entire tone. You simply save everything you've done under the heading of version 1, save it to your hard drive and other storage vault, then head off in another direction you might enjoy more. You could not do this with mere paper, not unless you photocopied, color-coded your drafts, and set an enormous process of merging that would still require you to spend more time at your keyboard.

Which ever way it is--paper or screen--get it down as quickly as possible, then on with the electronics.

Writing remains as difficult as it ever was, but at least you will be in a better mood when you undertake it.

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