Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Over the course of my hashtag study and composing posts for this blog, I was given the opportunity to experiment with multiple different writing tools. For my first post, I used ZenPen. For the second, I composed with Google Docs. After those were the Microsoft Word for Tablet app, a typewriter, and WordPress. All of these tools had interesting points, as well as drawbacks. But the question remains: What would the ideal writing environment be for me?

First, I’ll look at the elements about ZenPen that I like. After messing around with it after my initial post about it, I’ve come to like it a bit more. The ability to invert colors is a nice touch to make things easier on the eyes, the text is nice and big, and the interface is extremely simple and user-friendly. What I don’t like about it, however, is that it saves things in a browser window. In order to take things and move to another device, I’d have to save my writing to my computer and upload it onto the new computer. This is significantly more of a dilemma to me than it would be to others; I write very long texts and often have to work from different computers.

Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so.
Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so. 

Google Docs is my primary writing tool because it runs on all of my devices, and it’s similar to the word processors I grew up on (so it’s a lot less “alien.”). However, I’ve started to shy away from it where my personal writing is concerned. I’m glad to have things backed up, yes, but what happens if my account gets hacked? Something about storing writing on a cloud, in a document that’s easily accessed by anyone using my account, doesn’t sit right with me. Draftback is pretty cool, though.

Tablet apps like Microsoft Word for Tablet are generally a “no” for me. They’re too hard to work with, no matter what sort of setup I try to use. Even using a bluetooth keyboard, like I usually do with my tablet, proves frustrating. It’s too slow, editing is more difficult than on a laptop, and tablet apps require more effort to back up. Still, when your computer’s down, it’s nice to have a backup… and this can be used without Internet access, if you’re ever in a pinch.

Typewriters are outdated, and for a good reason–their keys jam, they require a fair amount of force that makes one’s hands hurt after writing, and typos are nigh impossible to correct on them. Still, they have their charm. The clacking sound of the keys is incredibly satisfying, as is the little bell that sounds when you reach the end of a line. Plus, they look incredibly cool. If not for the difficult points of writing on a typewriter, they’d probably be my go-to writing tool!

On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter...
On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter…

Finally, there is WordPress. I love to blog–I run a not-completely-terrible movie review blog in my spare time–but at the same time, I sort of hate blogging. I don’t like to put my thoughts into writing and then, without any middleman to tell me any flaws I’ve done, send them out to the public. (There’s a reason my blog doesn’t update often.) Furthermore, I don’t particularly like WordPress– its layout is difficult to navigate compared to similar sites, and if you have more than one blog there can be major chaos. But it’s probably the best way to reach a wider audience, so there’s something infinitely satisfying about it… if I could learn to use it well.

So, after analyzing all of these tools and apps, what can I say about my ideal writing environment? I’d say it would be a Frankenstein’s Monster composed of the best elements of all five tools: Distraction-free and user-friendly like ZenPen, familiar and stable like Google Docs (coupled with instant-saving), private and Internet-free like tablet apps, quirky and unique like the typewriter, and audience-friendly like WordPress. Since a lot of these things might seem to contradict each other, finding the best possible writing environment would require abandoning whatever elements I deem least necessary.

So, what can we really take from my intense fickleness? Mainly, that what constitutes a “good” writing environment is a matter of personal preference and nothing more. (There are people who use Notepad and nothing but Notepad, after all…) In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy K. Baym states that people’s views on technologies are reflective. (p. 28) This means that a person’s like or dislike about a site is usually caused by some personal bias for or against certain things.  As a result, the way I view these tools is more about me and my finicky nature than any real flaw with the tools themselves. My initial complaints about ZenPen were that the text size couldn’t be adjusted and it was hard to get creative; this could be attributed to a desire for a more “traditional” word processing tool that looked similar to Microsoft Word.

I’m still looking for the best writing tool for me, but switching between two or three environments every now and then provides a pretty good balance. And changing to adapt to some of the more “foreign” ones to me certainly couldn’t hurt…

Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Kim’s Reflections on the Typewriter

Like many other writers, I’ve always wanted to use a typewriter. They look cool, and they’re vintage, which is even cooler. In the old movies I grew up watching, I always saw writers clacking away on the keys of a typewriter, and I never thought I’d be a legitimate writer until I sat down in front of one of those things. Let’s face it: typewriters look pretty cool. And they’re even cooler if you grew up a Stephen King fan.

The fact that the film adaptation The Shining exposed me to typewriter-induced madness at an early age didn’t sway me from it at all. When I went to use the typewriter for my latest blog post, I was incredibly enthusiastic about finally getting a chance. I knew it would be incredibly difficult compared to writing on the computer, but I also figured, “Hey, how bad could it be?” I decided to spend some quality time with the typewriter named Floyd Pepper.

  Bad isn’t quite the right word, but it was a far more arduous process than I expected. The movies make it look a lot easier than it really is. I felt like a senior citizen trying to navigate an iPad for the first time. “What is this confounded thing?” I thought at least once.

Writing in progress.
Writing in progress.

  The first thing that gave me a hard time was loading the paper, which I’m still not entirely sure I did correctly. It took me a few minutes to realize that I needed to turn one of the knobs away from me, not toward me. Of course, my writing ended up coming out at a slanted angle by the time I got to the end of the first page. I think I did a little better the second time, though!

The first page I typed. Notice how things slant toward the end...
The first page I typed. Notice how things slant toward the end…

    The second time: Typos. I made about 3,400 typos during the course of this assignment. A lot of these resulted from me typing without appropriate punching of the keys and thus losing a letter here and there, the rest resulted from me being an incredibly fast, impulsive writer. Since one cannot easily go back and change the way they have written a word, there are two possibilities for dealing with typos: ignoring them and moving on, or correcting them after the fact with a pen. I did both, and wasn’t particularly happy with either decision.   Furthermore, the necessary amount of force to write at all was rather baffling. I’m pretty rough with computer keyboards when I type, so I was shocked at how hard I had to hit a key on a typewriter for it to work. This left my hands with a numb, tingling feeling in all of my fingers that didn’t go away until the next day.

Lots of typos visible here.
Lots of typos visible here.

  Revising is also virtually impossible without starting over on a new piece of paper, so my only option was to keep going. Since I got back my blog feedback after I finished the typewriter work, I had no choice but to type up and revise my original text to make it better fit the requirements for the course. Was this particularly frustrating? No, but it’s also the sort of thing that writing on a computer has almost eliminated. (Even writing by hand is easier to revise, if you do it in pencil.) Theoretically, this could’ve made my writing a bit more careful. Of course, it didn’t. Writing on a typewriter in such a short, crunching-for-time span, I knew I had to keep going, and fast. I finished my paper in a bit over an hour, and aside from the typos and other formatting issues, it was mostly a pretty decent rough draft of something. Unfortunately, when I’m writing something, I want something that looks a little better than a decent first draft. Correct formatting and spelling are ridiculously important to me; without them, I feel like a failure even if the content of my writing is otherwise passable.

Here we can see pen marks I did for correction. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped it would.
Here we can see pen marks I did for correction. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped it would.

  It’s not hard to see why typewriters are considered obsolete: they’re limiting. It’s hard to write quickly on them, and it’s hard to write well on them. This encourages careful writing and discourages people who like to type lots and edit more later. The environment of the room with the typewriters didn’t hinder me at all; knowing I wasn’t alone made it hard for me to get discouraged, so I finished a lot faster than I thought I would.   Since I had to type up everything I’d written after the fact to make it remotely readable, I learned that I am the sort of person who is much better at writing if she gets a chance to change things a lot as she goes along. It also tells me that I should perhaps slow down when I write, although this is not something I would prefer. (I would much rather write quickly and then revise than write slowly.) Individuals who are more careful writers would likely benefit from the usage of a typewriter; as for me, I just view the devices as a curiosity of the past, albeit ones that contributed incredibly important works to our culture. In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym discusses technological determinism, a view of technology that posits that technology changes the way people think and act. (Baym, 30-33) I think this is an important thing to take into consideration when discussing the typewriter. Most people in this day and age who are accustomed to typing on a computer keyboard will find the typewriter to be antiquated at best, regressive at worst. There is also a social stigma against people who still use typewriters; they are mainly viewed as individuals who are just doing it “to be cool” and/or different, often called “hipsters,” and are often criticized for their choice in writing tool as a result. Those who still use typewriters, such as Richard P. of The Typewriter Revolution, are quite displeased with this social stigma. As Baym says, “We are surrounded by messages that treat media as a cause of social consequences,” (33) and it’s hard to look at the inundation of messages about new technology being “cool” in the eyes of the mainstream and not see it as connected to modern views on the typewriter. I don’t view the typewriter as at all uncool. I view it as terribly inconvenient for a person like me. Still, at the same time there is something weirdly charming writing on a typewriter. Perhaps it’s the satisfying clacking noise, or the little bell…

Or perhaps it was the opportunity to finally type out the most famous words ever written by a fictional author.

I'd have typed it several thousand more times, but my fingers were numb.
I’d have typed it several thousand more times, but my fingers were numb.
Kim’s Reflections on the Typewriter