Last night we had a power outage, and it made me wonder how badly I really want to be a writer. I was in the middle of writing an e-mail, not an ordinary “hey, how ya’ doin’” kind of e-mail but a continuation of a theological discussion I’m having with my son. We’ve had these discussions most of his life, ever since we realized that I’m a conservative evangelical and he’s a Holy Heretic. When the power went off, my computer stayed on, but I knew it was only temporary. My laptop is seven years old, and the batteries only last for 10 to 15 minutes before shutting down. I saved my e-mail, turned off my computer, and lit some candles before David shut down his computer and left us in total darkness.
After I shed a little light on the situation, and while David took his flashlight outside to see if the power outage extended beyond our property, I sat on the couch, wrapped in an afghan, and wondered what one did at 9:30 at night with no electricity. I thought about getting out my spiral notebook and jotting down a few thoughts about my e-mail, but I’d have to get more candles to have enough light to write by. The power would probably be on by morning, so I’d wait until then. I watched the hypnotizing flicker of the candles and listened to the steady tick of the grandmother clock until my bed began to call my name, and I answered the call.
This morning, the power was back on, my computer obediently sprang to life and I finished my e-mail. Then I checked my blog stats, perused Facebook for a few minutes, and did a little grant writing, a side job that adds a little fun money to the budget. I also did some thinking about writing. Most of what I do now involves writing in one way or another, and it’s really become important to me. But how badly do I really want to write?
The Internet has made writing relatively easy. Quality writing is still hard, but anyone with a keyboard and a connection can share their deepest thoughts and feelings with millions of their closest friends in a matter of seconds. According to Freshly Pressed, today WordPress.com hosted 364,451 bloggers who posted 857,580 new posts and 487,577 comments. That’s a lot of words, 184,574,722 to be exact. If you add in all the other available blog sites, the number of daily words probably rivals the national debt. For authors with greater ambitions than a blog, books can be e-published and on the screens of e-readers before traditional query letters reach an agent. But what if it weren’t so easy?
A couple of years ago I read Terri Blackstock’s Restoration Series in which an electromagnetic pulse killed every computer chip on earth and set civilization back a century or so. This morning I didn’t immediately jump to that kind of catastrophic thinking, but I went back a couple of decades. What if the Internet was gone, but I still had my computer, my word processing program? It would be a little less convenient, and my audience would shrink. Weekly columns and occasional articles that are now e-mailed to the newspaper would have to be mailed or dropped off at the office. Manuscripts would have to be mailed to my agent or to publishers, and communication would have to be by mail or phone. I’d lose my on-line audience, those who read my blog and the articles I contribute to various websites, so it would be harder to build a following for the book I’m sure I’ll publish one day. It wouldn’t be too bad.
But what if my computer was gone, and I had to go back to using a typewriter. And if computer chips were gone, and with them all electrical power, I’d be left using a manual typewriter. That would be a real pain. And without electricity to power a copier, I’d have to use carbon paper. And I’d have to be accurate or use white-out if it was available. And if typewriter ribbons became scarce, I might have to resort to pen and paper, until they ran out.
In August I published a post titled “When Did You Know You Wanted to Be a Writer?” This is how I ended it:
I knew I wanted to be a writer, or had become one, when the need broke through the fear. When the need to put thoughts into words became greater than the fear of rejection or criticism. When a new idea bubbled up from that writer place inside and wouldn’t let me sleep until I let it flow through the keyboard.
I wonder how strong the need to put thoughts into words would be if I had to write by candlelight, if I had to make ink from walnuts or charcoal, if I had to sharpen feathers to make pens, if I had to learn to make paper. I wonder how badly I really want to be a writer.