The pen – mightier than the key?

Brainstorming - useful technique for gathering ideas

Do you find it easier to write in long-hand or is the keyboard your tool of choice? I do most of my writing straight onto the screen these days but a recent experience made me wonder whether I’m doing justice to the writing process.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months writing cover letters, tailoring my CV to the particular job description and preparing for interviews. So far all attempts have been fruitless – I still haven’t managed to land a job!

Before one of the recent interviews, I was informed that I might (just might) be asked to write something. That’s ok I thought, I can do that.

The day arrived. I woke early giving myself plenty of time to choose the appropriate ensemble – not too corporate, not too laid back – and arrive in town with time to spare. My father placed enormous value in punctuality which has guided me all through life. I hate being late!

After a fortifying long black I made my way to the oldish building, squeezed myself into the elevator built for one, and clunked my way up to the office. The receptionist greeted me without even lifting her head to look, and ushered me hurriedly into the interview room. A large bare room with a view out over our magnificent harbour. “You’ll be doing your exercise here first,” she said “I’ll go and tell XXX you’re here. Make yourself comfortable.”

With that she exited closing the door behind as she went. Comfortable? She’s gotta be kidding …

Enter XXX.

Formalities over, she gave me a piece of paper and asked that I write a 100-150 word teaser based on the information given. “Just use the lap-top and save it when you’ve finished. You’ve got 20 minutes.”

Then she left.

I sat down with the screen before me … no mouse. OK. I read the script, a lot of unnecessary  information masking the key messages. Not really enough time for brainstorming … I sat poised waiting for my opening line. As soon as the words came I started typing. Reality hit, this was one of those screens operating on time delay. I’d type the word then have to wait a few seconds before it registered. Not only that, the cursor had a mind of its own – it was flying all over the place. I’d try to scroll down ever so carefully, and the page would fly at great speed in the wrong direction, up then down, then back again. What the ??? My heart sank …

OMG – I’m too old for this, couldn’t they just give me a pencil and paper?

I duly got a couple of paragraphs onto the screen, in between leaving the room for a comfort stop and swearing at technology. When I tried to find the word count tab somewhere – anywhere – I couldn’t find it. I don’t even know what programme I was working in, it certainly bore no relation to Word. I knew there were far more words than required and my time was nearly over.

Then bang – all over and I wasn’t even sure that I’d saved it correctly. I wasn’t pleased with the result – one or two good sentences, but overall not great. Let’s be honest, I’d made a real hash of it!

Now I’m no slouch when it comes to technology. I’m fairly competent. But I felt that in this instance, it had got the better of me.

If I had been given the option of writing as opposed to typing, I’d like to think I’d have come up with a far better result – with logical flow and more vibrant language. Cutting and pasting has its place, but only in the editing phase at the end when you can look back and see the big picture.

For me, ideas flow much better when I’m poised pen in hand, over a blank sheet of paper. My better blogs, the ones I’m most pleased with, are ones that I’ve written in long hand first.

Also, I hate to say it, but I need more than 20 minutes. I need the time to think, rethink, substitute good words with better words, make sure the language fits the purpose, walk away and return with fresh eyes. I like to mull things over.

You can tell a lot about a person from their handwriting. The same can’t be said of a keyboard. Aside from the choice of font, colours, and spacing between lines and paragraphs, the screen doesn’t give a lot away. I’d like to think that the way I write – physically – further informs the reader about who I am.

From this experience I’ve learned that if put in this situation again, my best plan of attack would be to put my thoughts on paper first before committing them to the screen. At least then, if I run out of time, I can still produce a hard copy version – old style.


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