Forgive us while we journey back to the early eighties - when typewriters were without memory chips, and writers kept a pen in their pockets at all times.
Whether one was writing copy or content, the first draft was often written with a pen on paper. It's much easier to make changes on paper than with the typewriter, particularly if you are a two-finger typist.
The problem with going directly to a typed version was that if you decided to make a change after you had typed the page, you had to start all over again.
Yes, all this was a hassle, and took a lot longer than writing today in your favorite word processing program. But there were benefits.
The principal benefit was one of time. First, it was understood by everyone that writing something well took time. So we worked within longer deadlines.
But the main benefit was that, as a writer, the medium required you to think carefully before typing out your final draft.
You looked carefully at your handwritten draft, mindful that revisions to the typewritten version would waste a lot of time. So you thought a great deal about what you wrote. You had an incentive to consider every sentence, every phrase, every word.
There is no doubt that the arrival of word processing made the writer's life a lot easier. But something was lost.
Writing with word processing is so easy. Too easy. The medium does nothing to slow you down. You can write as fast as you can type. Then run the spell-checker and you're done.
There are two problems here. The first is that whoever your boss is now has the expectation that writing can be done faster. Not so. Yes, the physical act of typing in the characters, one by one, can be achieved faster, as can revisions. But a writer intent on doing good work still needs time. You still need the time to think carefully about what you are saying. Time to consider the best opening, the most appropriate pace, the best words to express your meaning. Writing well doesn't come quickly. It is never there in the first draft. But our bosses and managers expect us to write faster, simply because of the speed and convenience of the technology we now use.
The second problem is that word processors make us lazy. Us, the writers. We no longer have to labor over hand-written drafts. Nor do we have to carefully type our work, knowing that a single error or revision could take us hours to put right.
As a result, we are tempted to become complacent. We just let the words pour out onto the screen. They look good as soon as we see them, and the spell and grammar-checker is there to pick up any errors. (You wish.)
The problem here lies not with the technology, but in how it makes us lazy and complacent as writers.
Writing may have become easy in a practical sense. But we shouldn't confuse the action of writing with the craft of writing.
Crafting the right message takes time.
It takes time to work out exactly what you should be saying.
It takes time to work out how best to say it.
It takes time to write a second and a third draft.
And that all takes a commitment from writers to take their craft seriously. To fight themselves and those around them in order to write well.
In his book ‘On Writing', Stephen King says, “But it's writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can't or won't, it's time for you to close the book and do something else. Wash the car, maybe.”
We couldn't have put it better ourselves.
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