A Brief History of Word Processing and a bad picture of a poem

Okay, so there’s this songwriter/musician I follow on Instagram and am a little obsessed with. (His work, not him!) Recently he’s been posting these amazing pictures of new songs he’ll be coming out with this year. They’re all neatly handwritten in a really cool looking journal with rough-edged, linen-like paper, and they brought back memories of trying to handwrite stories and poems in my own journals back before I progressed to a typewriter and then to a Brother word processor and finally to my MacBook.

I decided I should try handwriting again. So I’ve been carrying around a journal (mine is lined because my handwriting goes hopelessly uphill if I have no guides). I’m not exactly sure why, but poetry eluded me for some time while I carried that journal. I think it was fear. I think I was honestly afraid that if I tried to write something in a journal, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Last night, just as I was supposed to begin making dinner, inspiration finally struck and I rushed for my journal and a pen and started writing. What came out of my pen isn’t exactly what inspiration whispered to me, but I don’t think I did too badly. It’s definitely different writing on paper and not as easy for my inner editor to make me rethink things. A good pen makes a huge difference. I like this one, but it’s one I picked up at my dentist’s, so it may not last long. I’ve never liked writing with a pencil (too scratchy), but I may try that next time.

I haven’t even titled this poem, either. I hope I can read it when I go to transcribe it onto the computer. My handwriting isn’t awful, but as you can see, my inner editor did kick in once or twice, resulting in a few scratch-outs.

What this experience did remind me of was that I didn’t start taking my own writing seriously UNTIL I had a computer. Until I could sit in front of a screen and type my words in and erase as necessary and have a finished product that looked like it should, I was almost literally frozen creatively. I had ideas, but when I sat down to write them, they poofed away.

Is my inner editor that strong? Did it keep me from being creative for years by whispering to me that my ideas wouldn’t turn out right if I wrote them out on a legal pad? If so, what would happen to me tomorrow if the EMP finally happens? If all computers are wiped out, will it take my creativity with it?

Maybe I better try writing in that journal more often.

The Fear of the Last Word

Writers experience a whole cornucopia of emotions during the course of their careers—anxiety about deadlines, joy when we finish something, pride when we see our books on shelves or in the hands of others—but there is one emotion we avoid speaking of when it comes to our professional lives. Fear.

Fear that the last book really was our last.

Fear that our idea well has dried up and our muse has moved on.

Fear of the last word.

Paralyzing, engrossing, fascinating…fear.

Don’t look too close at the fear, we tell ourselves. If you believe in it, it will believe in you and that is bad news for your writing. But it’s so hard to look away from it! We don’t know where the ideas come from. Who’s to say they’ll keep coming? Who’s to say the angel of creativity might not turn his face away from us? If a writer tells you he doesn’t worry about this, he’s lying.

My very best work is accomplished when my muse sits on my shoulder and whispers it directly into my ear. It’s inspired, feverish, intense and very, very rare. Most often, I feel like I’m plodding through my story, pleading with my muse for something, anything. And I get messages back, but they’re more detached than those intimate whispers. Like emails. Or—if I’m lucky—a handwritten note on scented paper…and mailed from a great distance.

I know I haven’t written my last book. I have one waiting to be edited and I’m writing another one. But still, the last word—my last word—is out there somewhere. It hasn’t been written yet, but it will be. I just hope I write everything I want to write before I write that one.