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Amber Paulen


5 September 2011


My last post about editing provoked some good advice, both from friend and photographer John Ryan Brubaker and from songwriter Matt Blick. In my comparison of writing longhand vs typewriter vs word processor, I stumbled on what I called permanence and impermanence, which I meant as the amount of change allowed a piece in the final steps. When I edit on the computer, the piece seems in an impermanent state, the cursor always blinking.

So how to solve the dilemma when confronting a final draft? Limits! photographer and songwriter said, limits on what can be edited and the amount of time spent. The natural limits of writing longhand and on a typewriter is the relative permanence of what is set down on a page. The page itself is limited in its word count, hands get tired, crossing out is messy: what one writes is what one gets. I think those who finalized drafts this way established a more complex relationship to their work, a heightened understanding of how their work works. And it is exactly this question that must be posed:

How does my writing work? What are my bad habits to eliminate in early drafts? The earlier I can arrive at how I want to write where I want my story to go, the less nit-picky I’ll have to be later. Draft and re-draft, I think that’s healthy, as long as each draft is fresh and confronts a new problem exposed.

Actually, even without the addition of technology, art has always been a subtle interplay between the limited and the limitless and the artist a practised adept at tight-rope walking.



Commentary for Limiting


1 On Monday 05 September 2011 Vincent wrote:

I’m glad you have instated comments on this one! I liked your previous post on polishing. By the time I reached the end I felt that the apparent differences between handwritten, typed and word-processed owed much to your rhetoric and selection of examples. The different instruments will not overly influence the better writer, who will assemble the text in the subconscious or conscious mind before laying down the paragraphs. However, the word processor is clearly tolerant of lazier practice, whereby the gestation process may be bypassed and the text thrashed out by trial and error, visually rather than in the mind’s eye. Of that there might be no end, except that the whole thing may go stale and the writer may realize too late that it’s getting worse, not better, because the original inspiration has evaporated. I have seen this in my own writing and in a story-writer whose work I edit.

For myself, writing a non-fiction blog as my main literary outlet, I certainly do a lot of final editing for typos and clarity at the keyboard and screen. But there’s a much bigger process of gestation, whereby ideas float around for days without forming into anything coherent. Typically, I’ll dictate thoughts into a recorder whilst walking a country path, or scribbled notes in bed in the small hours, with no specific intention other than to capture ideas before they vanish.

The actual drafting of my essay tends to get done in one go, often starting at 4 or 5 in the morning, when I feel the prompting to lay an egg, as it were. The more I practise the more I find that the unconscious has assembled the piece without my being aware of it. When I write something I feel proud of, I actually feel that I’m merely the transcriber and editor, acting on behalf of a wiser being than I know how to be. It’s convenient, then, to talk of the Muse.

2 On Monday 05 September 2011 Amber wrote:

I did wonder about the examples I chose in the last post and even if such a thing as a difference in mode of writing could be shown. But anyway, I too enjoy the outlet of this blog. I considerably shorten my editing process, while still contenting myself that I have gotten something I want on the page. And I definitely agree with your last paragraph, when the words flow onto wherever they're going, that’s great stuff!


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