“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” – Lewis Carroll
I’m a little concerned about developing repetitive strain in my wrists. It’s to be expected, I suppose, as I work towards writing a million words. Last year didn’t help, with an average post length of over a thousand words. I keep them shorter now.
If you want to write fewer words, however, you also need to think about how you can make them count. How can you do something that has some value, that makes an impact?
The strain affects writing by hand as well, and so I’m experimenting with different instruments, such as ballpoint pens. Like many people that are fussy about stationery I can go on for a while about the differences between pencils, ballpoint pens and fountain pens and what sorts of problems we have with paper. But now that we have the Internet it’s easier to go looking for other people’s stories.
In doing this I came across The Power of the Ballpoint Pen: An Artist’s Magic Wand, in which Jason Franz talks about how artists like it as a tool. He talks about strategy and purpose – how his strategy is to get his students to get over the fear of making mistakes by using hard to erase media. He also talks about how creation is a process of iterative development, something you do in layers, first sketching out a light outline as you search, then going over the good lines a bit more as you confirm, and then finally laying down a dark like as you punctuate and bring out the essence of your drawing.
I think this inability to erase is important – that’s why I prefer to write with a text editor that makes it just that much harder to delete large chunks and why I use drawing software that has no cut and paste ability (at the moment) and I hope they don’t change that. Putting down a line and sticking with it is skill you have to develop – and that’s the purpose of Franz’s approach. The iterative development he suggests is so that you can understand that just having talent is not enough to create good work – you also need to work at it. He wants you to slow down and see that anything worth having in the real world takes time.
And then the most important message is to let go of fear. When you can erase a mistake you can live your life being timid. Don’t do that. Make a firm line that can’t be erased. Be fearless.