Yeah. I know. Most of us, devoted computer fanatics that we are, had an allergic reaction just reading the title of this article. Yes, computers have moved mankind’s “quality of life” into a new age. Yes, modern cars go further on less gas, cleaner than before, and quieter. Sure, our cell phones tell us who’s on the other end of a call and hit the “refuse call” button if we don’t want to talk to them. Our TVs and computers are instant windows to the outside world, whenever and wherever we want.
But just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s good. If that was the case, the H-bomb would have been the ultimate in morality when it was invented. Nothing like a little brand-new atomic theory for putting you on the moral high ground, eh? No, that’s ridiculous. The problem is, all these big companies who are devoted to providing us with the newest and shiniest tell us that their newest product is the best. Our friends and acquaintances inadvertently reinforce this, but getting the latest model and getting us jealous of their electronic finery.
As writers, we can afford to be bamboozled by this blast of business brand boosting. (Heh, look at all those Bs. That’s alliteration for you.) With the responsibility of word-crafting for a whole society, we’re supposed to be more concerned with what’s in the mind than with what’s in our hands. Regardless of that, though, we’re supposed to write. Which means we’re just like any other craftsman: We need tools to make our art. And a real craftsman is scrupulous is his selection and use of his tools.
Which is where the two threads of this post combine. Old-fashioned doesn’t necessarily mean good, but neither does new-fangled. Painters have been using a very specific tool for centuries. Master carpenters have, too. Sculptors, metal-workers, chefs, and musicians all use the same tools they always have. Sure, the tools might be improved with electric power and maybe some circuits to improve accuracy, but the tools haven’t changed. So why don’t writers use their traditional tools?
Who writes with a pen anymore? I know one author who does, out of the dozen or so I know personally. Who uses a typewriter? As far as I know, I’m the only one. As far as I’m concerned, the typewriter is the pinnacle of writing tools. Sure, it has its disadvantages, but its advantages more than outweigh them. The typewriter is a writing machine, honed over decades and designed for its job as perfectly as it’s possible to for humans to design. It’s a well-honed knife, a sculptor’s chisel, an artist’s brush. Compared to my typewriter, my computer is a Swiss Army knife. It can do many things serviceably, but few of those things really well.
Now, I know most people won’t agree with me. Even my best friends and my family call me an anachronism. Most of the time, they’re using it in a friendly way and often as a compliment. But it’s true. I like old-fashioned things. I have knee-jerk dislike of a lot of modern things. But ignore my preferences for a moment and ask yourself a question.
You’re a writer. A serious writer. You’re an artist, a craftsman, creating new things. You use tools to make your art and show it to the world.
Did you pick your tools? Did you carefully select them, to do a job as well as possible? Or did you just grab the flashiest implement in the store because the advertisement made it look shiny? Because it’s the newest thing, guaranteed to improve your productivity and work times?
Are you carving that story from pure imagination with a finely honed sculpting knife or are you hacking at that priceless block of creativity with a cheap multi-tool?