July 12, 2019 § 11 Comments
By Cathy Elcik
In a world where writing means the syncopated click of touch typing onto a screen filled with digital words, trailing black ink across the white pages of a notebook feels like a Brontosaurus wailing at a meteorite of progress, but I still prefer a ballpoint dinosaur to electronic progress. I prefer paper to computer screens. I prefer ink to pixels.
Just as the scriveners of Melville’s time might have taken one look at a ballpoint pen and said they’d prefer not to upgrade their quills, I’m suspicious of the cursor on my laptop that blinks with the impatience of a tapping foot. I prefer the quiet patience of blank paper spread out like a field of fresh snow inviting me to make my mark.
A laptop may be able to perfectly typeset my thoughts as I write them, but a first draft has no business being easy to read. A first draft shouldn’t herald itself in a cacophony of clattering keys. A first draft should arrive with the raindrop-quiet of the popping sound my ballpoint makes skittering through the cursive-and-printing hybrid of my handwriting. A first draft needs the whisper of the thoughts I haven’t made sense of yet to be echoed by the whisper of my hand gliding across the page as I finish with one word and move onto the next.
On paper my thoughts can be crossed out. On paper my thoughts can snake up a margin to avoid separating related thoughts between the front and the back. On paper my thoughts physically change the page they’re written on: notebook pages filled with ink on both sides make a satisfying crinkle when turned, notebook pages with ink on both sides are crisscrossed with indentations, a tangible topography of ideas; notebook pages filled with ink on both sides waft the clean and acrid smell of black ink, a scent as beloved by this longhand writer as the smell of low tide to a beach lover.
A laptop only listens while I sit upright, but pen and paper listen as I lay on my stomach, my right hand filling my notebook, my left hand stretching out straight, my head resting on my bicep, and my fingers securing the pen against the calloused landing pad of my middle finger so it can leap and twirl, a ballpoint ballet of truth and secrets.
And though it’s true our brains are the original computer—our memories the original ROM, our synapses the original RAM—biological kinship doesn’t mean a laptop’s a better tool than a pen. A piece of tech that requires a fan to prevent its hard-drive from melting down may not be the best tool for a writer whose cerebral hard drive is prone to anxiety meltdowns. Instead of strapping into the digital fast lane where my touch-typed thoughts can be zapped—fast, fast, fast—onto a screen, pen and paper slow my mind long enough for my heart to get a word in edgewise; pen and paper slow my mind long enough for my heart to encourage me to wait for truths that filter up as slowly as water from an aquifer; pen and paper slow my mind long enough for my heart to swell when she recognizes that a truth I’ve waited for so patiently reveals me as clearly as the gentle wave of her long, long neck reveals a Brontosaurus.
Catherine Elcik holds an MA in creative writing from Boston University and is a longtime member of Grub Street’s writing community in Boston. Her fiction has appeared in Narrative, Carve, and the Drum. These days, she’s using her ballpoint pen to work on her novel-in-progress.