(Not) wasting time

Lately I’ve been undertaking a fairly new exercise for me, editing a number of previously-written essays to make them better. They’re already typed, have already been published, so the text is easily accessible on my computer.

So how am I going about doing the editing? By printing out all of the essays. By picking up a pen (often a fountain pen) and notebook, and rewriting each essay in turn, making changes as appropriate. By typing the new versions back into my files.

I expect most people will read that with surprise. Why on earth take the time and trouble to completely write out an essay that’s already written? By hand? (Who writes anything by hand these days, anyway?) Why not just edit it on a computer? If you must print the things out, why not just write edits into the printed copies? Wouldn’t that be so much faster?


Really, no. It’s not at all faster. I tried editing one file on the computer, and it was a disaster. I turned a decent piece of writing into complete hash, instead of making it better. I edit stuff all the time on my computer, but this project just isn’t working that way. I’m thinking better by leaving my keyboard alone, reading the words on paper, and taking the time to consider them slowly as I write them back onto paper. The enjoyment of using a good pen helps draw me to the work and make it more pleasant, which helps me get past the resistance of sitting down and starting. Retyping is a bit of a nuisance, but I type fast. It doesn’t take long, and I can do it in chunks.

Doing it “the long way” is faster, because if I do it the long way, the work gets done. When I tried to use nominally faster, supposedly more-efficient methods, it didn’t.

I’m taking the opportunity to review some assumptions about “the right way” to do things. Sometimes getting a task done faster isn’t the most important thing. Sometimes a method doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, anyone but you. Sometimes a method doesn’t have to make sense to you either, as long as it works and you’re satisfied with it. Sometimes it’s worth making a choice out of sheer enjoyment and for no other reason.

Maybe, just maybe, a human isn’t a machine, and it’s not worth trying to always work like one. Maybe creativity doesn’t really care if you could save 15 minutes or an hour or a year. Maybe it’s just going to work the way it works, and if you want to go along on the ride with it, you follow it. Wherever it goes and however it gets there.

Maybe. Could be. For now, I’ve got a date with a pen, a notebook, and some hard-copy essays.


2 comments so far

  1. teabird on

    People have been using their hands to transcribe their thoughts for as long as they have existed, from the cave paintings on. That connection between one’s hand and the image being used to portray one’s ideas has always kept the transcription slower than the thoughts — and I think that’s a good thing. A keyboard hastens the process but doesn’t necessarily improve it; writings are not improved by speed, but by accuracy and truth.

    I have to say that in my experience, the fluid expression of ink onto a page from a fountain pen lends grace to any writing I do, whether correspondence, journal, or professional piece. I never turn down any opportunity to invite grace into my life!

    • stitchesandwords on

      Absolutely. A keyboard is a GREAT tool, and sometimes I need it to keep up with the idea I need to unreel — but sometimes it just encourages me to run and trip over my own feet!

      I find I fill up notebooks faster and faster these days :)

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