The (Handi)Craft of Writing

Hello, dear folks of WordPress. I hope mid-November finds you well.

I have not, in fact, crawled under a rock, run away with the circus, or joined the witness protection program (as my recent radio silence might have suggested). I have, rather, been wading around, waist-deep in writing territory, chipping away at the Big Project. More than a couple hundred pages into this thesis, and I still underestimate how consuming writing can be. In the living room of the mind, this project has taken up lots of space. It’s been like that inconveniently large sofa-bed we’ve all encountered — the heavy-bulky one with weird contours that jut out at awkward, space-consuming angles. Sure, it’s big and comfortable, but it eats precious floorspace and hampers easy mobility around it, violating all the principles of Feng Shui. What’s more, its upholstery has got a loud, monopolizing print that refuses to match even the best of colour-coordinated afghansSuch is my relationship to this work (and why the knitting needles and art supplies have been mostly unattended these days).

It’s an odd form of infatuation, writing is.  

Why I hand write

One thing I’ve come to love about the process has been thinking about all the ways writing intersects with art and hand-crafting. It seems that my crafting sensibilities have invaded my writing process. This has not always been the case! I used to rely heavily on my laptop to make words. But lo and behold, the past few weeks find me going back to what used to be my hand-writing holy trinity: pencil, paper, and Staedtler eraser.

A different kind of handmade WIP.

I find the word processor excellent for editing and revision. But when it comes to brainstorming and generating that very first draft — that initial, fear-riddled leap from nothing to something — handwriting fits the bill, for me, for several reasons.

It’s a slower pace of composition that puts no pressure for speed on word-recall. A slower hand, decelerated by the friction of pencil lead, gives my mind time to perform its internal word search. Ideas are so fragile at this first stage, and with the pencil, they get time and space to ripen and coalesce. There’s time, too, to pay attention to rhythm and sound; form does not fight with content.

The hand-written page, I find, is also very low commitment, and that’s good. It’s the writerly equivalent of a laundry-hamper: no one needs to ever see the state of the things that go in there! It’s also a kind of “test swatch”; the page can be a space of freedom and possibility and privacy (and that means the writing becomes a bit more comfortable again).

Also, tactility. A lot of Word processor functions mimic things we habitually do on paper. Whether bolding text, writing comments in the margins, cutting and pasting, or adding a strategic strikethrough, underline or highlight, these are all imitations of the ways we touch words in their making. Wrangling with the tactility of text — restoring words and meaning to their material state — reminds me that working with words is a craft. Word-working is not so different from wood-working, after all. It can be just as fun as selecting a fiber or texture, or planning the hues in a yoke (as the picture above shows, my process now includes literally cutting and pasting sections together, true to my crafter’s heart).

Finally, I love paper. Specifically, there’s something magic and special about that yellow paper — the humble yellow legal pad with the blue lines and pink margin.

Chapters.

This stuff is like chicken soup for the writer’s soul (a fitting metaphor, as it’s about the same chicken soup-colour). In pad form, the paper feels soft and smooth and cushioned and kind — as inviting as a newly made bed in clean, striped yellow linens. “Lay your words here,” the pad seems to say, and, bit by bit, the words come, wanting to find a resting place. The paper itself is thin, dismally rip-able, and bordering on translucent, evoking the flimsiness of newsprint. Strangely, this flimsiness is comforting; it sends a message to the subconscious that, like newsprint, this writing is entirely disposable and chuck-able in the trash bin (or better yet, recyclable). And, like the daily paper, whatever gets crumpled up today will be replaced by more ink and more words the next day; the paper evokes regularity, the mundane, and assurance of abundant things to come tomorrow. So much of writing fluency, I’m learning, lies in managing the state of constantly being confronted with the unknown; for the blocked or beleaguered writer, anything that helps with recovering ease and regularity is nothing short of miraculous. This paper is my secret sauce.


Thanks for reading my writing ramblings, with likely more to come. It helps me tremendously to take a breather from the work and reflect on what helps and what hinders the writing process. And, my crafter’s brain is always looking to stitch up the connections between writing and other forms of creative practice. I would love to hear how others make this connection. What role does writing play in your non-writing creative practice and productivity?

Until next time!

13 thoughts on “The (Handi)Craft of Writing

  1. Oh, you’re so right! Nothing beats handwriting for that taking that important first step “from nothing into something”! It’s also fascinating to see how you use it, to deliberately slow things down and think more deeply as you craft your words. I love handwriting for completely different reasons… My ideas are flighty things that need to be pinned down on the page before they get away, and typing just doesn’t give me the same immediacy as scrawling gibberish over half a page, then going back to correct it more thoughtfully before typing it up. This post almost had me feeling nostalgic for my own dissertation-writing days… ALMOST! 😆
    So, good luck with your ongoing Big Project, Shirley! Oh, and I totally agree about sofa beds by the way – who designs the upholstery on those?!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Helen, for reading my ramblings, lol. I like your metaphor of “pinning down” the ideas by hand before they get away. Ideas tend to escape, otherwise, don’t they? I’m picturing little Beastie-shaped, winged Idea forms hovering in the air. 🙂 I enjoy scrawling gibberish, too! And a cup of coloured pencils is a big part of the process. I think the creative mess is fun (so is cleaning it up).

      I have always enjoyed how your writing conveys all of the many Beastie lives lived with so much wonder and wit! Your posts really take readers on an adventure! (and how interesting to hear you had dissertation-writing days… very glad they are in the past, though!!). Cheers, and hope fair-crafting is going well. 🙂

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      1. It’s always a pleasure to read your ramblings, Shirley! And thank you for reading mine… I do get much more enjoyment out of the writing I do these days! 😁 And now, back to market prepping – I’m actually tempted to have a go at making a winged Idea Beastie to add to the lineup! Have a super week 😊

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  2. My son suggested I go back to pen and paper for my creative writing a while ago. I’ve been stalled on that front for over ten years now. After reading this, I think he might be on to something. Thanks for an eye-opening post. I did buy a stack of legal pads not too long ago. I think it might be time to start using them for more than just grocery lists. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for reading, Robin, and for sharing your thoughts. I think your son’s idea is great. I found paper very helpful for getting out of what was becoming a multi-year stall. The legal pads helped me to take the pressure off, and were also conveniently portable if I needed to change scenery on a whim. The perforated pages made it easy to start afresh if the last day’s work was mixed, and it was a plus to get in touch with my penmanship again (er, what was left of it.) I would love to hear how it goes if you give the paper a try. Happy Crafting! 🙂

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  3. So you did not join the Crafting Circus? Ha!
    Enjoyed reading this post, I randomly checked for a post by you and I was rewarded! I admire your use of handwriting to spur your creative process! My handwriting looks like I am being electrocuted while intoxicated, ha, so hats off to you! I love yellow pads, they make me think of my Dad who worked on his autobiography (he never finished it unfortunately) all on yellow legal pads with his block lettering. Thanks for sharing your insight of what you love and gain from handwriting!

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    1. Alas, I didn’t! (though, the Crafting Circus doesn’t sound half bad, actually!). 🙂 Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughtful comments, Tierney. I’ve seen your hand-writing! It’s a lovely and animated, lilting hand, full of life and flourishes!

      How interesting to know that your Dad was also a writer, and was hand-writing his autobiography. That’s quite a special project to undertake. I imagine he had a lot of wisdom to share, and am sure those yellow pages are full of inspiring stories, reflections, and experiences (never having met him, of course, but remembering the things you’ve shared through your own work and writing!). Thanks for checking in, and looking forward to catching up on your travels. 🙂

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  4. As always, I’m late in reading your post but it was worth the wait. I love your prose. And the creativity that flows in your post. I do not really write much these days (except on my blog) but I love taking notes on the things I do each day, my plans and my lists of things to do, to see, to get. Nothing beats paper in my opinion. I could never get used to the virtual calendar, I need a solid paper one and plenty of room to write notes each day. I also like to be able to erase, remove mistakes and replace them. It is quite similar to knitting in a way, where we can also go back, remove mistakes and start over. Bon courage for the rest of your Big project.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and kind words, Agnès. 🙂 I’m a big fan of your prose as well – especially the way your writing translates the nuances of meaning and ideas across languages. I’m always in awe of how effortless it reads (and I enjoy getting to read your posts in both!).

      I could never get into the habit of using virtual calendars, either, and for the reasons you describe (erasing is a favourite activity of mine, too). And, yes, there is nothing like hand-writing lists, tasks, and To Do’s to plan and solidify the day’s activities. Merci et bisous. All best with planning for the upcoming sweater. 🙂

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  5. I love this! I didn’t know that you’re writing a thesis – that’s quite an accomplishment. Sending many blessings for the process. And, I hear you on the power of hand-writing. What you wrote about this being a reminder that writing is a craft is so good. Thank you. 🙂 Good luck and best wishes, Debbie

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  6. Strength to your elbow (hand!) for your Big Project. Writing a thesis is all-consuming. As a writing-by-hand enthusiast, I enjoyed your post and agree that it is a different experience to writing with a keyboard under one’s fingers. Slower and more meditative. (Do you know about morning pages? I discovered this early morning free writing practice in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Mariss. 🙂 Happy to know that you’re a hand-writing enthusiast! Do you write the poems by hand? I really enjoyed Cameron’s book (and the rest she’s written on the creative process). I have always set myself the goal of writing morning pages (I love the idea), but have not managed to stick with it for very long. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder – I may give them another try!

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