For as long as I can remember, a pen and piece of paper have been the tools of my trade.
Somewhere — a box in my house or maybe my grandfather’s — exists a poem written when I was about five and trust me when I tell you, it was probably the most wonderful poem ever by anybody.
Even now, in this age of computers where emoticons (see above) are now as prevalent as semi-colons (if not more s0) and I sit here writing this post on my MacBook, there’s still something about grabbing a pen and piece of paper and starting to work out my thoughts that way.
Whether it’s been an article for a newspaper, a short story, sometimes even just a letter, I like to put pen to paper before I put fingers to keyboard.
And, I have to say, for a long time, I’ve been a bit of a pen snob. There was a long stretch where it was just Mont Blanc ballpoints and now I alternate between a Waterman and a Cross.
Anyway, what got me thinking about this was the story in the New York Times the other day about Mark Twain as literary critic, which included an interactive feature that allowed you to scroll through pages and examine Twain’s own handwriting.
This wasn’t the first of the Times’s literary postings. Late last year they put on their website the one and only complete handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. As the Times pointed out in an accompanying article, looking at the manuscript in Dickens’s handwriting allows you a glimpse into this thoughts, as he crosses out sections only to reinsert them later to draw out the dramatic effect.
The manuscript draws you into the magical world of creation, the pen strokes, the scribblings that become art. Not to take anything away from anything created on computer, but there’s something about being able to see the work that’s gone into something. It’s not like politics and sausage-making.
And more often, libraries are beginning to recognize the appeal.
The British Library has even developed special software, Turning the Pages, that they say allows you to “leaf through our great books and magnify the details.”
One of my personal favorite examples of this is an early draft of what would become the Story of Babar posted by The Morgan Library.
The online exhibitions of handwritten pages come at a time when — and I actually feel a little silly saying this because it seems to obvious — a probable majority of work these days is created on keyboards.
Just look at the announcement from Emory University, which has acquired Salman Rushdie’s archives in the form of his old computers.
The point is that there’s a certain irony in the fact that thanks to the beauty of the digital age, it is now so much easier to appreciate the beauty of the written page, the work that goes into creating art.