Musings on writing
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Musings on writing

In recent days, several friends have mentioned journal-writing. Some of them have begun putting pen to paper and find it a valuable exercise. But most, like me, do their writing on a computer. This is unfortunate and has dire implications for the future.

Thought is a process. We see that process at work in written documents. Sometimes, a word is crossed out (or, in the case of an original musical score, a note is changed), and we can see the development of an author’s ideas. But on a word-processing program, we see only the final document, as if sprung full-blown from the mind of the writer, who probably changed her draft countless times. We’re missing out on the wonderful journey that brought the author to her literary destination.

Writing by hand has a wonderful, personal flavor particularly conducive to relaying confidences and expressing affection. The world would be a much poorer place without the correspondence of John and Abigail Adams, both formidable writers, neither afraid to speak (write) their minds. And how nice it must have been for them to see each other’s handwriting on incoming mail — and, perhaps, discern the other’s moods from the flourishes (or lack thereof) of the penmanship.

When our computers crash, we lose our words. And that loss will be felt by future generations as well. (It’s unlikely that outside agencies will go to the trouble of trying to retrieve our correspondence unless we stand accused of some egregious crime.)

Still, while letter-writing is all but a lost art, it must be admitted that the world is a much richer place for the invention of the printing press and the creation of typeset books. And by books, I do not mean e-books. I mean the printed kind, with turnable pages and some kind of binding. While, as a journalist, I value the computer highly, there is no substitute for the printed page.

Books can go anywhere. (There are limits to where we can use a laptop. At least, there should be limits.) Pages can be pinched down on the corners so we can revisit a favorite page on a whim without doing a search. Also, the phenomenon of page-turning is a delicious sensation, particularly when one is racing toward the final clue in a heart-stopping mystery. Scrolling down just doesn’t do it.

And yet…. I recently had the occasion to use my computer to print and bind a book — not actually by hand but on my instructions, nonetheless. I had promised my family that I would begin to compile the voluminous writings of my late husband and I was finally ready to sign off on what I optimistically called "volume 1."

A bit of Google research and a few phone calls revealed the following. I could download a program that would allow me (for free) to convert a maximum of five documents into PDF files, the format suggested by Kinko’s for online printing. (Note: before doing the conversion, it’s advisable to put all your files together in one document, so that the entire publication becomes one large document and, therefore, one PDF file.)

That done, I visited the Kinko’s Website and attached my PDF file, specifying how I wanted the pages of my book collated, what color paper I wanted (for the pages as well as for the cover), the number of copies I desired, and the preferred method of binding (I chose spiral).

I could then — and this truly amazed me — review the finished book page by page to ensure that everything looked right and that the page breaks and spreads were to my liking. They were. I pressed submit and went to Kinko’s the next day to pick up my finished job. My family and friends were moved, delighted, and very impressed.

I feel considerably less daunted now by the prospect of compiling volume ‘, except for the wealth of materials I must sift through to do it — some of them, blessedly, hand-written. The printed book is gratifying; the hand-written scrawl is precious.

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