Writing Tools and Writing Fools

I love the word cacography. And that affection is amplified because it has an obverse term, calligraphy. I say the obverse, because the two words aren’t precise opposites of one another, but rather counterparts. But your fervid brain is saying, “Why Tom, why do you love cacography?” Because the word has an almost rude sound, a yanking of the earlobe, that works well for me—I have wretched handwriting, and “cacography” serves to describe it in sound and fury.

But the real direction of this post isn’t toward ear-twistings. I mentioned cacography because I wanted to talk about writing tools, and one of the most natural—though less enamored of keyboard clatterers today—is the pen. However, because my handwriting is such a cruelty to the eye, no matter if I painstakingly slow the cursive motion or speed it up, or ply it with bourbon, it always comes out as sadistic scratchings, the Caligula of cacography.

However, I do still take notes by hand when I’m mulling over an article or story, or sometimes just single words which are designed to later prompt an image or situation. Sad are the times when I’ve gone back to my notes and read “Xdz?mph” or some other transmogrification.

Does This Macbook Make Me Look Fat?
So, my writing tool in the broadest sense is my Macbook Pro, which has been my companionable computer for a couple of years. The specific applications I use to wrest words from the ether are Microsoft Word or TextEdit, Apple’s built-in word-processor. (Ah, “word processor”—think blender experiments that render smoothies of beef tongue, lightbulbs and turn-signal lamps.) Many people decry, and with good reason, the tyranny and arbitrary nature of Word, but I have been using it for so long that it’s second nature to me, unnatural nature that it is. But when I just want to write notes without the overhead of a bells-and-hellacious-whistles word-churner like Word, I use TextEdit. Which is what hosts this post this very moment.

However, because I’ve been working on a novel lately, I’m probably going to start using an enhanced writing tool like Scrivener, which is a database-style application that lets you arrange, search and manipulate documents, text snippets, outlines, images and more without opening a rack of individual documents. Because I’ve been saving the novel chapters as individual files, I keep going back and opening them separately to remember some earlier details about a character or situation, and that’s clumsy. Almost cacographous. A tool like Scrivener lets you poke around in a bunch of associated documents and find which one has the red socks and which one the blue, without going through the drawers one by one. And it lets you color-coordinate.

Make Something Great of the Blank Slate
One thing I’m doing more of (with a nod to Leo Babauta) is to try and close out my full desktop of overlapping applications and just have a single naked document onscreen, so that it gets full attention. Thus I’m less tempted to jump to the browser to search for pancake recipes or to my email to see if the pope has written back. Some people use the most bare bones of word processors, without any pallettes or menus showing, in order to crystalize focus, but I’m not distracted by menus. Except in restaurants.

I had a nice device called a Neo a while back, which was a dedicated word processor of sorts. Neos have a built-in keyboard, boot up in a heartbeat, run forever on rechargeable batteries, and could also be used to hammer in loose nails on the deck. I wish I still had it for taking on trips, for those times when a full computer is overkill, but I sold it a while back to buy additions to my twig collection, or something like that. But long before that, I had a magnificent Underwood typewriter, which required brisk workouts with free weights to pound the keys, and which would have produced a seismic reading of 6.5 if dropped out of a plane. Those were the days.

So, which writing tools strike your fancy?

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6 thoughts on “Writing Tools and Writing Fools

  1. My fave is cartography, yet I very much enjoy how you point out the nuances of cacography, which I also suffer from. Or with. Or something…

    And Underwoods. What IS it about Underwoods? The scene in the film “Love, Actually” where the characters played by Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz fall in love all depends on an Underwood. Firth types his novel on one of these, and keeps no copies. The whole venture depends on the survival of a single stack of papers. When Lucia moves something and they all fly off the tabletop into a pond and the two dive in to the cold water after them, solidarity forms and an enduring romance is born.

    Let’s see Microsoft Word try to put THAT in its pipe and smoke it.

  2. My handwriting is an abomination.

    But… the act of jotting down ideas and sentences, in spiral notebooks, on colored index cards, on sheets of clean unlined paper, is where I nonetheless must begin the creative process. And it must be done with a fat, sturdy writing implement. None of those fancy ultra fine point pens or pencils for me!

    Then I can move on to Word or TextEdit. I actually love working in Word. No problem.

    Oh, and yes, your Macbook makes you look fat.

  3. Rick, I have a slightly less romantic tale of disposition of my first short story of any consequence, which was typewritten (and thus a single copy) in undergrad school. I hitchhiked home from Northern California to Southern Cal with it in my suitcase, but that suitcase (which also bore most of my clothes) was stolen by a weasel who’d picked me up, invited me and another hitchhiker to free lunch at a restaurant, and then excused himself to go to the bathroom and drove away. I never did try to rewrite the story. If only I’d had my Underwood with me, because its weight would have flattened his tires…

  4. So Annie, is this “fat, sturdy implement” a jousting stick filled with ink? An elephant’s trunk? A billiards cue with a reservoir? Do tell.

    And I’m with you on notes and scribbles often beginning the creative process, but my problem is the scribbles often turn out to be indiscernible dribbles. But I still do like beginning that way.

  5. Tom, while I do have a thing for chubby crayons, my writing implement of choice is the Paper Mate “PhD” fat retractable ballpoint, medium point size, with an ergonomic triangular rubber grip for writer comfort, and the patented “Lubriglide” ink system for a more intense color experience.

    Sounds kind of racy, I suppose, but sometimes a pen is just a pen.

  6. Sigmund Dennison, long may your Lubri Glide. My second car was a 1948 Dodge, which had a “FluidDrive” transmission that was boggling to me. It had a clutch for negotiating through its three gears, but you could also start out in first without using the clutch at all-in fact, you could start out from third without downshifting. (And no, I didn’t buy the Dodge new—I’m rickety, but not THAT rickety.)

    I guess I only qualify for the PaperMate “MA” though, which isn’t as lubricious.

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