On pen and paper

My friend Emily Hall writes, in email:

I thought of you the other day when I bought a couple of new composition books. (After an argument with the stationery-store clerk who wanted me to buy a pack of 15. . . I was less optimistic and wanted two. Still, It’s nice to know that the New York stationery store as I remember it from my childhood — when I used to stand around and admire the pens and hope that someone would notice me and buy me one — still exists.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing by hand, and why it seems less agonizing than on computer, and I remembered this bit I wanted to send you from the Paris Review interview with Stanley Elkin.

The interviewer asks: “Do you have a philosophy of language?”

Elkin replies: “It’s a matter of feeling one’s way. It is not instinctive. It’s a question of using a pencil, erasing, creating a palimpsest of metaphor right there on the page. One gets a notion of the conceit and one is inspired to work with it as a draftsman might work with some angle that he is interested in getting down correctly. That’s where all the fun of writing is for me.”

Somewhere in there is the truth as I see it. On a computer, each time I try a sentence, I start fresh. With pen and paper, I can see where I’ve been.


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