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Writing tools through the ages

Moseyin’ Along

October 17, 2012
By Joyce Schenk - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Lately, I've been blissfully tapping away at my trusty computer, catching up on correspondence and gathering notes for upcoming classes I'll be teaching after the first of the year.

And, every time I commit my thoughts to the glowing screen, I realize just how fortunate I am to be writing in an age when there are such advanced tools as "Delbert," my nifty Dell PC. For instance, those of us who try to record the world around us have come a long way from the cave dwellers.

Imagine the frustration of those first early writers and artists who began painting shapes on the cave walls. How did they edit their work?

In the books I've read and the pictures I've seen on the subject, there were no crossed-out horses or painted over warriors. Instead of the many re-writes I need to put my work into publishable shape, the cave men/reporters must have been so sure of what they wanted to say that they did it right the first time.

And the early communicator who chiseled his words in stone - did he plan the project in the dirt first? If so, how did he keep the kids and the family dog from stepping on that first draft of his masterpiece? Such interference could easily have discouraged a budding talent.

As for those who wrote with quill pen, how did they keep up with the constant demand for paper and ink? There were no neighborhood stores - Office Depot, Staples, Wal-Mart - filled with blank tablets and throwaway ballpoints.

Fact Box

Dear readers, due to a computer glitch last week, this column was apparently lost in cyberspace somewhere over the mountains of West Virginia. In years to come, it will undoubtedly be discovered by some historical researcher. But, in spite of the delay, I hope you will enjoy my take on how things in the writing game have changed through the years.

Just imagine the angst of old Edgar Poe, sitting hunched in concentration at his desk, the oil lamp casting a glow on his furrowed brow. His hand moved across the paper writing carefully. "Quoth the raven" - but suddenly the pen ran out of ink.

The poet, his imagination stopped in mid flight, would have gone to bed with his thought incomplete. For sleepless hours, he would have tossed, waiting impatiently for the dawn.

At last, when daylight finally came, he would have hurried next door to borrow a few precious drops of ink. Only then could he sit down and pen the famous ending - "nevermore."

My earlier writing days were almost as frustrating. I composed my work directly on a typewriter.

Whenever I faced that blank sheet and dispassionate keyboard, I would expect the worst. The problem was, once my thoughts started rolling, I was unable to control the outpouring of my run-away mind. Before long, the ideas and words came faster than I could type then. Invariably, on the last line of an otherwise-perfect page, I'd introduce a glaring error. The act of tearing the sheet out of the typewriter and starting all over again brought on a physical pain that left me convinced I'd chosen the wrong line of work. Eventually, some clever soul who understood such frustration developed that great savior of the writing world, "white-out." I was able to "paint away" most of my errors, although the finished piece was, admittedly, a little lumpy here and there.

But now, with the magic computer at my command, a mistake only requires a few strokes of the delete key.

I can't claim that this modern genie has made me a better writer, but it has certainly made me a more relaxed one.

I would never have made it as a cave-dwelling reporter or a rock-chiseling columnist. In my world of multiple assignments and short deadlines, I've found my personal key to happiness is labeled "delete."



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