Let Your Fingers Do the Talking?

Thank you for reading this first blog posting, and while I couldn’t be more grateful for your visit, or for the technology that helped guide you here, maybe you should consider setting aside that keyboard of yours from time to time.

As Midge Raymond notes on her helpful literary blog The Writer’s Block,

I’d been cranking away at the keyboard on the same project for what felt like a very long time. And while this is a great way to get a draft down, it’s not always the most inspiring way to work – for me, anyway.

So I decided a change of scenery would do me good. I grabbed a notebook and a pen, and I vowed to stay off the computer for my next few writing sessions. I wrote in a café; I wrote at my kitchen table; I wrote on my sofa (cat in lap, notebook balanced on cat). And it did wonders.

For one, I couldn’t procrastinate by hopping online to do useless research or to see what my friends were up to on Facebook. More important, the process of handwriting slowed me down, and I did a lot of much-needed thinking about character and story. And best of all, I never got stuck, never had a moment of just staring at the screen, hands poised over the keyboard, wondering what comes next. Perhaps it was the process of slowing down, or being in more relaxed settings, which takes off the pressure that sometimes causes writer’s block.

You can read the whole post here.

What Midge Raymond says about the differences between keyboard writing and handwriting reminds me of what the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector once said in one of her Selected Crônicas:

“Why do I now write with my fingertips, when I used to write from the heart?”

Here’s an early photo of Lispector, working at a desk, pen in hand, nary a keyboard to be found.

Clarice_Lispector

If this is the way Lispector consistently wrote her books, then it might indeed be a method worth adopting, all you keyboard addicts out there. Especially when she came up with prose like this, from her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart:

“She waited near the bookcase, where she had gone to look for . . . what? She frowned, not really interested. What? She tried to derive some amusement from the impression that in the middle of her forehead there was now a gaping hole where they had extracted the notion of whatever she had gone to look for.”

Or this, from her last novel, The Hour of the Star:

“A scrawny fellow appeared on the street-corner, wearing a threadbare jacket and playing the fiddle. I should explain that, when I was a child and living in Recife, I once saw this man as dusk was falling. The shrill, prolonged sound of his playing underlined in gold the mystery of that darkened street. On the ground, beside this pitiful fellow, there was a tin can which received the rattling coins of grateful bystanders as he played the dirge of their lives. It is only now that I have come to understand. Only now has the secret meaning dawned on me: the fiddler’s music is an omen. I know that when I die, I shall hear him playing and that I shall crave for music, music, music.”

If you don’t know Clarice Lispector’s writing and these excerpts intrigue you, you should search out her work. And you might want to read Benjamin Moser’s new and impressive biography of Lispector, Why This World. Lorrie Moore has an excellent review of Moser’s book at the New York Review of Books, “The Brazilian Sphinx.”

And I’ve written my own review at The New Leader, “The Fuel of Art and Life.”

So, why not get yerself a moleskin notebook (or something less ostentatiously trendy), a pen of any persuasion, and urge new words to appear? And during those necessary breaks, you could do worse than read some Lispector.

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  • 3 Comments

    1. Phil! How wonderful that you’re blogging … welcome to the blogosphere. Thanks for giving me another delicious distraction from packet work–I MEAN, INSPIRATION, YUP, THAT’S WHAT I MEAN FOR SURE!

    2. Bunny Berg says:

      Hi Philip,
      The visceral, kinetic, connection between mind/body while writing by hand cannot be replaced. I believe some of the soul has gone out of letter writing with email. Reading someone’s own scrawl gives the reader a connection that can’t be had reading type. I will try out Lispector.

    3. Olga Soffer says:

      Hi Phil –

      So glad you are a blogger now…..congrats on new book….Soudade rules…..

      cheers, Olga

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