On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

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.

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Comments on: "How Badly Do I Really Want to Be a Writer? | by Linda Brendle" (11)

  1. I used to fill hand-carried notebooks from cover to cover before i had a computer, and especially before laptops. I wrote more than 1,000 pages of prose that I showed to nearly no one before going public. When I’m not writing I’m thinking about writing. I even dreamed about writing last night.

    But I’m a nerd.

    • Yeah, you started a little earlier than I did. I wrote the first draft of my book in a spiral, but once I got the hang of writing on the computer, I got hooked. I don’t dream about writing much, but thinking about it keeps me from sleeping sometimes. I guess I’m a semi-nerd. If I live long enough, maybe I’ll graduate to full nerdhood.

  2. Excellent post, very thought provoking!

  3. When I first started writing, back in the mid 90s, computers and printers were widely available but I couldnt afford one. I wrote rough drafts by hand in spiral bound notebooks and then copied final drafts onto loose leaf paper to keep in a binder. I called it my “portfolio” hahahaha I was so naive. I dont know what I expected to do with it. Walk into a publishers office and hand it to an editor? I have no idea. I was so stupid. I guess at that point I was just more focused on getting the writing done then I was on what I would do with it once it was finished. I wish I could get that fire lit under me again. Now I have so much anxiety over whether or not Ill ever eventually get published that I cant write most of the time.

    One thing that hasnt changed tho, is that I still prefer to begin writing my first drafts by hand, even if its just the first few paragraphs. Putting pen to paper feels more organic, more connected to the process then typing does. Youre physically creating each letter, word and sentance with your own hands and I think theres something special about that, something you dont get from pushing keys and seeing text appear on a screen.

    • I don’t believe your early writing method was naive or stupid. A writer writes because she has to, regardless of whether anyone ever reads it or not. As for pen and ink versus keyboard, I wrote the first draft of my book by hand. But as arthritis takes its toll, the keyboard is less painful, so I’ve learned to adjust. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Come back any time.
      Blessings,
      Linda

      • I cant write whole drafts by hand anymore. I get a few paragraphs down then I copy it into the computer and continue from there. But it helps me get going to start on paper. The type of paper doesnt really matter, lately Ive been using legal pads, but it absolutely has to be an RSVP Fine Point black pen. I dont know why. Ive been writing with those for as long as I can remember. I used to buy them by the box at Staples back in my handwriting days.

        I dont know if all that hand writing I did when I was young did some sort of nerve or muscle damage or something (I literally would write for the time I woke up to the time I passed out from exhaustion) but now I can barely grip a pen for more then 10 minutes at a time before I have to take a break. Any longer and my hand starts to cramp and spasm and shake and I have trouble controling the pen to form the words and it just looks like scribbles that I cant even read when I go back and look at it. So the computer has saved me from giving up on writing even if its not my prefered method.

  4. Sue Allen Brown said:

    You know, I still cannot get started with anything meaningful without sheets of unlined paper and a cache of sharpened pencils. I can MOVE from there to the computer, but it still distracts me… I cannot connect to my heart with these keys.

    • I understand. I’ve heard the same thing from many writers. There is some tactile connection they need to stimulate the creative process. I preferred a spiral notebook and fine-tipped marker when I first started writing, but I’ve become spoiled to the ease of electronic editing as you go and have adapted. I’m looking forward to the day you will feel inspired to start a blog about Sophie and Towns or some other part of your life. You have so much to offer!
      Blessings,
      Linda

  5. Christi P said:

    Ok, my husband and I have had this very same discussion. I would hope I would still write but I don’t know where I’d find the time at this stage of my life. I guess it would just take me a long long time. I’d probably hand write it and then pay someone to type and edit for me. Hey, why not? There would be a lot of people looking for new jobs if that happened. Authors will always be around. hehe

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