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Friday, January 28, 2005


"A pen is certainly an excellent instrument to fix a man's attention and to inflame his ambition."
John Adams (diary entry Nov. 14, 1760)

WRITER'S RULE #1: Always carry a notebook and pen with you to jot down those brilliant plot ideas, scintillating dialogue and scraps of narrative that come to you while you sip coffee at Starbucks or ride the bus tow rok. These spontaneous thoughts are the pure stream-of-conciousness bits that will keep your writing bright and alive. Don't wait til you get home, or you'll hve forgotten them. It's a good idea to keep pen and paper by your bed too. Some fine thoughts may come to you just as you're drifting off and if you wait til morning they'll be lost in your dream-world."

WRITER'S RULE #2: Learn to type, because you'll be spending half your lifetime at a keyboard. More importantly,, editors will not accept handwritten manuscripts.

I still have a box filled with hand-written stories in notebooks along with my own illustrations.
I was twelve, and seriously considering a writing career. One of the things I wanted more than anything in the world was a typewriter. A real typewriter like reporters used. I was convinced my parents would get me one.

Alas! When Christmas came, I was presented with a small festively wrapped box. Perhaps the typewriter was hidden somewhere in the closet or on the porch? No such luck! Inside the box was a Bulova wrist watch with an expandable gold strap. I was crushed with disappointment.

"It's a beautiful watch," my Mother said. I knew she meant well. I was a kid who always daydreamed and dawdled, perpetually late for appointments and school. And now I'd have no excuse not to get home by my 9 o'clock curfew. But I couldn't be convinced that a wrist watch was better (or more practical a gift) than a typewriter.

It wasn't until my fourteenth birthday that I got my wish. A second-hand black Underwood. A real typewriter like reporters use in editorial news rooms. I spent hours in the solitude of my bedroom pounding the keys, writing pages and pages of words. By the time I was sixteen I'd churned out half a dozen short novels all with a historical theme.

When I went to live in Greece in the '80's I bought myself a bright red portable Brother. I had no furniture so used an upturned drawer for a table and spent hours typing travel stories. Every story I marketed, typed on that little Brother, was published. I've kept it as a memento of those days, when the travel journalist was born.

Later, I graduated to a word processor, and eventually technology caught up with me and I bought a computer. How wonderful to not have to retype pages, change ribbons -- to be able to spell-check and correct, cut and paste. No more clack-clack ding of the old typewriter. Now just a soft click click of the computer keys.

Two summers ago when I went back to Greece to travel and write, I bought myself a palm pilot and small fold-up keyboard. As I am often camping, this was a perfect tool for me, portable and compact and more practical than a lap-top. I wrote all summer composing, editing, taking notes. When I returned home I became caught up in moving to a new apartment, taking my possessions out of storage, setting up. By the time I got my computer working again and went to hot-sync my summer's work into it, the palm's battery had run down (I had forgotten to read the fine print that said to keep it plugged in and charging). All my work had vanished!
Fortunately, I'd hand-written some of the notes and had saved them. Otherwise all would have been lost!

I usually always keep notes and my first drafts are generally written by hand first. I believe that the pen is more trustworthy than technology. In fact, this is the second attempt at writing this blog. The first one I wrote vanished into cyberspace when I accidently tapped the wrong key. All I had of the original were a few hand-written notes.

The mighty pen had made it's point.

"And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
Shakespeare ("A Midsummer Night's Dream")

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