On the Drawbacks of the Unpolished

One of the skills I’ve had to rediscover in these last few weeks of living in Boracay has been the art of writing things by hand. Moronic baggage limitations plus visions of my laptop sinking serenely beneath aquamarine waters had persuaded me to leave my Vaio at home. Practically speaking, this meant having to borrow other people’s laptops to check my email or work on my blog—a necessity I attempted to minimize by writing by hand whenever possible.

Now, writing by hand is something I’ve managed to avoid doing for the last decade or so. In university, I rarely took notes, and when I did it, was with a Palm Pilot. Some of this aversion has had to do with possessing a frankly uninspiring penmanship—but most of it has to do with the fact that writing by hand is a messy business. What do I mean?

As opposed to Word-processed documents (and the word “processed” here is telling), handwritten manuscripts retain all the traces of their evolution. The dead-ends, the detours, the loops, the spirals, the non sequiturs and the lame jokes—all of these are fossilized for the writer (and for any interested posterity) to see.

Word-processed documents, on the other hand, leave the vastly more remarkable impression of emerging, like Athena, fully formed and flawless from their creators’ minds. There’s no evidence of the struggle—none of the metaphorical blood and the literal sweat—that accompanies so much of the creative effort.

And for that reason, I prefer writing by word-processor to writing by hand. It’s an infinitely more effective mechanism for preserving a certain, necessary amount of writerly conceit. The good news is that while my word-processing capabilities are currently in short supply, my reserves of conceit certainly are not.

Let’s just hope they last long enough.


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