The Tangible Text

How do computers change the way we write? I think the most obvious change is that the draft becomes obsolete when you use a computer. When I write by hand, I have an nfirst drafts. When I parenthesize something, it means I am unsure of whether to include that part. When I put a slash in betwee two words, it means I am temporarily undecided as to which one to use, and I will decide when I revise the draft. Of course, the pages become rife with scribblings and arrows, and full of deliberations over which transitions, synonyms, and qualifiers to use.

When I am finished with my first draft, I go over it multiple times, marking corrections in a different colored pen. Then I rewrite the composition by hand. Since rewriting is a slow and reflective process, it gives me time to see where still more corrections must be made. So, when I realize that I have used the same qualifier twice in two consecutive sentences, or that I didn't explain a transition well enough, I start editing "on the fly." It is this kind of editing, brought about by my careful rewriting, that is missing if I use word processing software instead. Sure, it is faster to write on the computer, but the careful rereading and relishing of the tangible text is simply missing from the electonic experience.

Computers put us in a mindset of speed and efficiency. In this writing context, I feel like I am succeeding if I fill the blank screen with characters as quickly and accurately as the 0's and 1's churn around behind the interface. I feel like the computer is watching me and rewarding me for this kind of quick writing. If I take the time to look up a word in a printed thesaurus or ponder over the proper wording, the computer chastises me, its clock resentfully ticking away my idle time.

When I handwrite my prose, I take more care, pore over my dictionary and my copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, and agonize over each word. But when I write with a computer, my writing is more punchy and bare, more like a mathematical thinker and less like a literary ponderer. And the muliple eloquent drafts that I turn out when I handwrite something converge into one draft in the electronic realm, bland in style and lacking in panache, but professional in appearance.