Writing Devices and The Cult of Writing

Hey, guys! Sorry I’ve been away so long…I’ve been working pretty hard on Little Bird, and a new sci-fi story in first person present which, as my boyfriend requested, has both war and aliens in it. And brains in a box, but he didn’t request that. Anyway.

I’m back to the bloggy grindstone now, so don’t you fret. Or, you know, whatever you were doing.


Writing Devices: If It Ain’t Broke

I’ve been seeing this thing plastered all over Facebook for the past few months. Remember the AlphaSmart? It’s basically a slicker-looking AlphaSmart.

I’ll be honest: my initial reaction was one of horror. Dear God, I thought–how much money are people willing to pay for special writing devices? I mean, this thing is basically just a word processing program in a fancy (and somewhat bulky, it looks like) case. While I like people to know I write, a t-shirt would be cheaper. And what message, really, is a device like this sending? That the only way to keep your holy and much-tortured genius ‘distraction free’ is to pay $400 for it?

And again, I’ll be honest. Every time I hear the phrase ‘distraction free’ in relation to writing, my blood still boils a little bit. Christ, guys. Are we all so undisciplined that we need special new toys to keep us from frittering the day away on Facebook or Twitter? Do we hate writing so much that all it takes is an article about ‘Ten Hollywood Actresses Who Looked Way Better in Their High School Yearbook Pictures’ to keep us away from it? I mean, I’ll admit it. I’ve spent possible writing time tweeting before. Or on the phone, or cooking dinner, or watching a movie. But I tend not to think of that as ‘OMG possible writing time spent engaged in unholy distraction’. I tend to think of it as time off. We all need time off.

Writing is, naturally, wonderfully cheap–wow, all you really need to get started is a pen and some paper. You don’t need to be anywhere special, you don’t need to be looking at anything in particular, you don’t even need lessons in how to do it. You don’t need to’ve read certain books, or be able to Discuss Dostoyevsky Wittily with Other Writers. Like all the arts, if you really want to do it, you’ll find the time and you’ll find a way. (F’rinstance– you can draw with just a pen and a piece of paper, too. And you can dance late at night in your room in sneakers, special shoes optional).

Why is there such a culture–such an intellectual black hole–built up around ‘writing a novel’? Writers aren’t just writers, they’re people who write–no one can be JUST a writer, and no number of write-culture fetish devices can make you a literary machine. Having a goddamn Hemingwrite doesn’t make you Susan Sontag. Nothing makes you Susan Sontag. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Susan Sontag wasn’t really Susan Sontag–at least, not the Susan Sontag who is portrayed to us folks who aren’t Susan Sontag.

Writing is something that comes from within. All this intellectual bullshit attached to it–where you put the commas, how to get an agent, whether or not your writing is good enough, smart enough, witty enough, whether or not you live ‘the life’–is just bullshit. And, while I might argue that whether or not you should attempt publication is a skill-based call, writing itself isn’t. All you need is a surface, a writing implement, and some basic literacy.

So. In this world, where the internet allows for instant sharing and the simultaneous curse and blessing of a ‘writing community’ in the smallest hometown, let’s try to remember that. Writing comes from within. And if you really want to write–if it’s something you HAVE to do–you’ll find a way.

That being said:

I thought about that Hemingwrite a lot. I thought about my reaction to it. And, in the end, I’m not sure my reaction was any better than anyone the hell else’s.

Because it doesn’t matter what you write on. It doesn’t matter what amulets and charms you employ in the process, what magical incense you light in your prayers to the Writergod. So long as you do it, if you want to do it.

I wish there wasn’t this idea of a writing culture. I do. I think it’s damaging, dangerous, encourages homogeneity, etc.

But maybe what I think doesn’t matter. Because it sure as hell exists. And, as long as it exists, there’ll be those hawkers at the fair selling ‘useful tools’–relics for luck, the bones of silent saints. And hell, these guys are almost certainly in earnest. The reviews I’ve seen for the Hemingwrite say it works just fine.

But are their products useless? Maybe to me. I can’t tell you how to write, though. And there’s power in such things, and there’s power in self-confidence.

Julius Caesar might not’ve cared for the results, but even he still took the auspices.

13 thoughts on “Writing Devices and The Cult of Writing

  1. Looks like hipster-bait to me. Got the Edward VII beard: check, got the short sleeved shirt: check, had breakfast at Cerial Killer: check. Right, I’ll go and buy a Hemingwrite and post a selfie with it on Twitter.

    Let them play if they want to. I’d laugh if it wasn’t for the fact these arseholes swamp the known universe with their illiterate e-rubbish

    1. I hate to agree with you there, but I do. It looks like the sort of thing I’d place in a rope-trap in the woods, next the Smiths on vinyl and a jar of organic kombucha, in the hopes of reaping a crop of greasy-banged stream-of-consciousness authors worthy of my town’s next independent theatre production.

      I mean.


      I mean exactly what I said, but I wanted to say something far less insulting, so, you know.

      I feel like it’s gotten a little too easy to hate on hipsters, anyway. They’re like the millennial jocks and cheerleaders of the internet.

    1. I’ll reply with some similar Dadly wisdom–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 😛 I’m with you, Word and a device to run Word on ain’t broke, and I don’t see any reason to upgrade.

  2. Confusing advertising for this bugger. It says it saves in txt format, but also other formats. So can you do things like bold and italic fonts or not? (Who wrote their advertising anyway???) The eInk screen is appealing. Psych studies have shown that the blue spectrum light of device screens disrupts sleep cycles, ie, you shouldn’t watch TV or work on your computer in the evening if you want a good night’s sleep. That they don’t have sufficient funding to go into production, and that they ship with no case is disturbing. That they think the cloud is the wave of the future is ludicrous. After Ashley Madison, maybe they want to rethink their tone about the safety and security of the cloud.

    But as you say, if this is what it takes for some writers to capture their words on a page, then good for them. I’m a big fan of getting it done in whatever way works.

    1. I think the thing that bothers me most about it–aside from, obviously, its lack of ARROW KEYS–is the shape. It’s supposed to be about five pounds, which sounds doable if a little heavy, but that shape would make it nearly impossible to slip in a purse or a tote bag, unless it’s the only damned thing in there. If you’re just using it around the house, Twitter and Facebook are just a few feet away anyhow–what’s the point?

      I’ve used my little Kindle and a detachable keyboard for writing on the go for years now, and the thing I like most about it is the ability to just pick it up wherever I am and start writing. The Hemingwrite doesn’t seem feasible for this purpose, and that, for me at least, means the entire advertised use of it falls apart.

      I’m with you, though, on that e-ink screen–sounds like a good idea. As does the long battery life–I leave the pulling of Thoreaus to people without jobs, but it sure would be nice not to have to lug a charger everywhere I roam. Shame they couldn’t wrap those ideas in a more portable package, however.

      But, like y’said, to each his own. If having a bulky four hundred dollar writing utensil is what gets it done for some people, I guess there are worse things in the world.

      1. The long battery life is primarily a function of the eInk screen and not running any kind of network adaptor. It isn’t sold here in the US, but there’s a Russian-made tablet my daughter would give her eye teeth for that switches between lighted screen and eInk, depending on whether you want to watch YouTube videos or read a book. It doesn’t weigh anything like five pounds–or have a goofy shape for which there’s no travel case.

  3. On the topic of Caeser, you aren’t, by chance, listening to the life of Caeser podcast are you?

    Also, I agree with the first comment – total hipster bait. If it weren’t useless shit, I’d totally want one. Really though for 400 bucks I could buy a laptop and a spankin’ new kindle and have enough left over for a coffee. If I don’t feel like being distracted, I bring a pad of paper. You can’t go wrong for a couple bucks.

    1. Legasp! No! I had no idea such a thing existed, but am now determined to seek it out. Roman history ftw.

      I have to say, I’ve never been able to write longhand–it feels different from writing on a keyboard, and I’d even venture to say you get different results. I’m spoiled by my bitty Kindle–I recognize thoroughly that I spend some ‘writing time’ on Twitter and Facebook, but, y’know, I still write quite a bit, so I just let it happen. 😛

      1. In the Dark Ages, when I went to school, I wrote stories for myself in longhand. At the tender age of 10, I didn’t know about writing rules and just let the creativity flow. Typing was done on a clunky typewriter and for school papers, which were in no way creative and required perfection to get a good grade. My brain associates longhand with free thinking and keyboards with rule-driven decisions. I write my books at the keyboard, but when I hit story problems, I switch to a notebook and longhand to power through them.
        But these days, people grow up with keyboards, and if they learn longhand at all, it’s with a teacher standing over them waving a ruler, ready to strike if they mangle a letter. They get the opposite psychological training from what us oldsters did.

      2. The dark ages–legasp!

        I grew up on the cusp of the digital age, in a way–in childhood, I wrote everything longhand. But I got my first computer age 11-12 or so, and it was hard to go back after that. Word processing made everything very easy, and ever since then I’ve stuck to computers. I admit, freely, that my longhand is execrable–but then again, it always has been. I have trouble reading what I’ve written.

        As for planning and outlining–I’ll admit, I don’t do much of it! But when I do, I do it longhand. My poor little Kindle can only take so many ratty, disjointed Word documents before it explodes. 🙂

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