Saturday, April 19, 2008

On Writing

5:50 pm

After spending the better part of the afternoon sitting at my computer working on my play, I decided to give myself a break and take a walk around the East Village. As I made my way through Tompkins Square Park, I started thinking about the process of writing: how I'd spent several hours working but really had relatively little to show for it: one new scene and two or three fairly significant revisions. Now, while I'm sitting at Cafe Pick Me Up, having a cup of coffee and a piece of nutbread, I thought I'd try to put my thoughts into this post.

No, I didn't bring my computer on my break—I brought my PDA and keyboard... it's a subtle distinction, I'll grant you...

When I was in college, I couldn't compose at the typewriter because I only typed 30 wpm (I attribute my lack of speed to the fact that my typewriter was an old Remington manual... and the fact that I didn't practice typing much), so I always wrote my papers out in longhand and then typed them once I'd finished. It wasn't at all efficient, but it was the only way I was comfortable getting my thoughts down. I don't think I was a very good writer then because I had a tendency to do my revisions during the typing phase—and, as I've said, I was a lousy typist on an old typewriter. As a result, I would start revising a thought, get about halfway done when I'd realize a better way to say the thought, but have to continue along the path I'd started because, at that point, revising the revision would mean retyping the entire page.

Today, since I write on a computer, I always revise as I go: I can start an idea one way, change my mind, go back and take a new tack immediately. It somehow suits the way my mind works. And I think it's allowed me to be a better writer than I ever imagined I'd be, or at least a clearer writer. If my only option was pencil and paper, I know I'd only be writing letters to friends—and that very rarely. Maybe it's the anal retentive in me: when I write on a computer, no matter how many times I revise, the "paper" (read my ideas) always looks crisp and clean.

What we lose, of course, is a record of the process of writing. My partner, Ralph, has bemoaned this fact to me several times; I know he often keeps drafts of scripts and stuff, and that he will compare later revisions to the earlier drafts. For me, though, I don't think my process is anywhere near as interesting as the results, so I don't feel the world will be any poorer for the loss of my "drafts," quite frankly.

I've read of (and even met a few) writers who won't work on a computer—they could, but they choose not to; I seem to remember reading that Edward Albee still uses a typewriter. I'm sure that there are still some who write only in longhand. And I wouldn't be surprised if, in a few years, I'll be the old-fashioned guy still using a keyboard (I don't see myself switching to a microphone, no matter how cool they make it look on Star Trek). The one thing that stays constant, regardless of of how the words are put on the paper, is the amount of time the writer spends sitting with the work not writing—in my case, at last half the time I devote to the project.

6:50 pm

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