More On Writing
It used to come very hard to me in my twenties, thirties, and forties, when I was disgustingly healthy. The sentences on the page simply would not fit the thought without repeated rewriting. What was peculiar about this is that I could talk and think in sentences, which were quite clear and well-organized, from a very early age.
If you listen closely to most daily speech, you will find that talking and thinking in full sentences is quite uncommon. Yeats claimed that Oscar Wilde did it routinely, and envied him in consequence. The only problem with doing it is that you frequently sound pedantic.
But, somehow, there was always a wall between my mind and my hands on the keyboard.
When I was in graduate school, and struggling to write quite a lot, I worked in a University open computer lab, by preference on one of the aging Macintosh II’s. Though they were fast becoming obsolete, they were built like tanks and gave no trouble under hard continuous use. I discovered a work routine that led to superior results; two hours in the morning after a good breakfast, two hours in the evening after a good dinner.
Four hours was my maximum, averaging a page (about 120 words) an hour. I discovered that if I tried to push beyond this, my page rate dropped even within the four good hours, probably from the anxiety to do more. So I simply spent the rest of the day either reading, or just hanging out, confident and secure in the expectation that eight pages of draft copy would be there daily.
But it was draft copy only, requiring much rewriting, unlike today when final copy comes forth from me with prolixity, perhaps a little too much final copy and a little too much prolixity. This is why I routinely fold up prior posts, except for the top post or, sometimes, the top two posts.
Writing still takes time—several hours for every one of my posts. And, working with Blogger, proofing and fine tuning the copy also takes time, perhaps more time than it should. The Preview function is extremely hard to proofread in. Black type on a bright white ground is too glaring. I generally alter only paragraph length in Preview. For everything else I have to publish and then proof in the Times New Roman on the “parchment” of my template to ease the strain on my old eyes.
This sometimes leads to embarrassment when a sharp-eyed reader, who happens to drop by as I am proofing, catches my mistakes before I do. I am trying to train myself not to compose directly in Blogger, but to paste copy from Word, since Word automatically underlines problematic spelling and usage in red or green. But I am constantly tempted by the convenience of the Blogger Compose function.
I sometimes have trouble explaining to Mrs. Claus why I cannot write more on many worthy topics. She is far more rabid than I on political topics, has trouble both writing and typing because of her rheumatoid arthritis, and is on many Progressive political mailing lists.
One of the problems with Progressive politics is that there are too many one-issue organizations, all e-mailing everybody. We frankly have too few Indians for the number of our Chiefs.
So Mrs. Claus is constantly bombarding me with forwarded Progressive e-mail to get me to write about it. Because she does not write much herself, she thinks, like most non-writers, that the mechanical labor of writing is somehow easier, or takes less time, for someone who writes a lot. Anyone who churns out copy will know that this simply isn’t true.
To maximize my copy volume, I perform the following little trick. I try to read my topic information before going to bed, and to fall asleep thinking about it. If I wake up in the night—as a man of my age often does, courtesy of his bladder—and I cannot get immediately back to sleep, I try to think of new subjects to write about. The only problem with this is I cannot live blog, or blog breaking news. But then my brain really does not have the speed for these things either. It requires more reflection than a that of a truly skilled journalist.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell had a method I adopted when working to deadline on papers or presentations. Instead of stewing about it the whole time from assignment to deadline, I would read about the topic for a day or two, until I was satisfied that I had grasped the main issues, and then I would give my mind orders to have the copy ready 3-5 days before the deadline. I would forget about the topic until then.
This takes great trust in yourself, but it really works. If you can learn such trust, you will find that the dark part of your mind will tap the conscious part on the shoulder during the non-writing interval, if it needs information you haven’t yet read. And the draft copy really will be ready at the time specified.
Speaking of my template, I find it to be quite popular. Many of the Blogger options are downright ugly or unreadable—the solid blue one with miniscule, sans-serif type is a particularly annoying pain to try to read. I note also that my template appears to be exceptionally attractive to individuals who feel a strong personal link to enduring institutions of the distant past.
This is certainly so in my case. As I have mentioned occasionally, I derive my own liberal principles directly and logically from the Preamble to the United States Constitution. And the serif fonts in my basic template have a reasonable echo of the fonts of that marvelously lucid and even-minded 18th Century, from which that Preamble came. They echo the Caslon (We now call it Caslon Old Style) which was used by Ben Franklin to print Poor Richard’s Almanac, and they echo the crisp, new, a la mode, serif face of England during our Revolution, which was cut by Henry Baskerville, and which still bears his name.
We like to think of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights as documents of yellowed parchment, like my template color. But it was not so when they were first written on sheets colored like fresh cream. What we have in the back of our minds when we think of them are the schmaltzy reproductions of the originals on fake “aged parchment”, still obtainable today, which have decorated thousands of schoolrooms or cluttered the desks of many a particularly precocious child.
It is hard to keep these two layers of time and memory separate and distinct in the mind. But then, this is America, where the folklore is almost always amalgamated with the fakelore.