Last week I had my last meeting with my first reader (think of this person as my advisor for the fall). It went pretty well.
He and I have not always seen eye to eye, and frankly we still disagree about a lot of (probably esoteric) aesthetic things, but after lots of therapy I was finally able to open up enough to find with this person a common language, and I am pleased to say we’re bud’s now. After our second meeting (during which we finally found a means of communication), it was generally agreed that in order to do this whole “story” thing he kept trying to push me on, I would have to pretty much rewrite everything (which I’m going to sort of do, but that’s a different thing entirely), and so we talked instead about the future, and it was agreed that I would give him some fresh, new pages the next time that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the existing thesis, which, for the purposes of the actual degree, was done enough. I wrote a lot of fucking pages.
So last week we met about these new pages I’d dropped off a few weeks back in his mailbox. It was 100 sections of 100 words a section and I was doing my best to “tell a story” while also not giving in to aesthetic pressures. I was semi-successful. He pointed out some good things I could do and helped me reframe some of the stuff in my head and that was all very helpful. I am finally at a point in my progression (Yes: I did that only for alliteration’s sake) where working with a strong-minded person with whom I disagree almost completely about what makes art interesting is not demoralizing but rather helpful and invigorating. So the meeting went well.
(Caveat and also a plug: to be fair, even when this was somewhat demoralizing, I did get a nice “I’m going to show you!” story out of it, which incidentally is published here.)
One thing not super related to what we were actually talking about, however, has kept ping-ponging around my brain and has taken on new focus as I work remotely at my job today (it’s snowing. I could have gone in but a long story…). This thing is efficiency.
He had said, “So, did you actually count all the 100 words by hand, or did you use a computer?”
Of course I used a computer. I’m a fucking millennial.
But here’s the thing: I do like the handwriting thing. I’ve started keeping a handwritten journal again. I’ve copied out passages by hand that were super good before (okay, so maybe it was just the last P of “The Dead” that one time, and maybe one other time for an assignment in undergrad).
But here’s the other thing: I’ve also got a lot of other shit to do.
The reason why the 100x100 story thing was so appealing in part was that I could work on a section in slivers of time. I’m otherwise a pretty precious writer: if I don’t have at least a good hour or so ahead of me, it can be hard to settle into something and do the work. I’m getting better about this, but it’s still something I struggle with.
The added barrier of counting, by hand, the words would have made this impossible. I mean shit, I would even knock out sections on the T, an otherwise wholly inhospitible place to do anything other than read or listen to music and try not to touch knees with the grumpy old guy in a worn out trench coat sitting next to you.
So the computer: it’s a tool. It makes things efficient. E.g., “find in files” when I want to change a site-structural paradigm. Multi-select in a text editor. Using the fucking styles pane correctly in MS Word. There’s lots of things about it that make life easier. I mean, fuck, I had to mail a bunch of shit today and I spent the extra 5 minutes before leaving the house to print some labels of our return address to save me I don’t know how much time and headache later. Computers are good tools. (Though to quote a quote that my dad printed on this laptop stand thing he made me, “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.”)
I’m sure the writing experience would be different if I had taken the time to hand-count the words. The words would probably stick out differently. But also think of it this way: my prose in life is mediated by the computer almost all the time anyway, whether via electronically type-set books or the various pleasure-chemical-scroll-feeds on my phone, so why should my prose in fiction be any different?
We’re all constantly re-learning how to read anyway. So we may as well make the smaller, automateable tasks go away so we can focus on the important things, like whether “and” or “but” is the proper conjunction in a sentence (I’m looking at you, Paul Hollywood).