Slow Hand


I’m reading William Least Heat-Moon’s Roads to Quoz, and in the process of describing a trip through Arkansas, he writes about meandering through settlements named Ink and Pencil Bluff and, in turn, those names remind him of his method of writing:

Considering my method of writing, driving through that territory gave new meaning to autobiography: I write a first draft in pencil, the second in ink from a fountain pen, and only thereafter do I enter the realm of binary digits (although six drafts — three-thousand pages — of my first book came tickity-tick-tick out of a typewriter.)

Reading that really struck me how impatient my mind is sometimes (all the

William Least Heat-Moon

William Least Heat-Moon

time?), especially the johnny-deadline (to steal a phrase from Stephen Harrigan) mind I acquired from journalism. It’s hard to imagine writing any nonfiction piece, even a book-length piece, at such a slow-handed pace as Heat-Moon’s describing here. Although at one time drafting furiously at a computer seemed horrifying to this owner of a Royal manual typewriter. (Though my fingers aren’t kind to the computer keyboard, as I hunt and peck and pound, to my wife’s 1,000-word-a-minute-light-touch consternation when she listens to me type. I also recall whacking to death at least one keyboard in my newspaper days.) It’s now hard to imagine composing anywhere other than at a keyboard.

Though I do write longhand in a journal. Which brings to mind a series of tweets from yesterday, when after a few minutes of writing in my journal, I complained about writer’s cramp: I wondered how those who still do write in longhand sustain their writing for long periods.

One response: “As a longhand rough-drafter, there are moments when I have to drop the pen and give my hand a shake.”

I wish I had the patience to draft in longhand (I occasionally do, but not often enough to say it’s a regular practice). I wonder what difference it would make in my writing. I wonder what it would be like to draft a 1,000-word feature article in longhand before zipping it into the bit-and-byte-o-sphere?

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