La-Z-BoyIn 1990, I bought a La-Z-Boy rocker/recliner for my study, and spent a number of years sitting in it, writing. I still own that chair, and, when I want some time to ponder or to daydream while working on an essay, a story, a novel, that’s where I go. There’s something about the gentle rocking motion that soothes me, and if there’s a window nearby with a view, then all the better.

I used to write exclusively with pen and legal pad, and there’s still something about the motion of my hand moving across the page that forces me to slow down, to feel the rhythm of my sentences, to open up avenues I might not consider while typing on a computer. I write almost exclusively on a computer now, but when I’m first getting something started, or when I’m stuck and need to work something through, I often go back to the pen and the pad.

There’s something to be said for slowing down in both our writing and our living. Paying attention to the natural rhythms of a piece will allow it to emerge more organically. Sometimes I feel something forced into its final form, and I wonder how much of that is the result of fingers flying over a keyboard and words stretching out over a computer screen. Think about what happens when you write in longhand. Try it and see. For me, the world I’m describing emerges in fuller detail. I’m going slow. I’m taking the time to look around and see what’s there. I can easily pause and look out a window, or close my eyes, and, while rocking back and forth, I can invite the world of the piece into my view. I also hear the music of the language. Writing in longhand reminds me that each word matters and that each sentence has a specific purpose in the piece.

rocker

Taking the time to listen, to gather, and to contemplate, will lead to richer connections with the worlds and characters we’re inventing on the page as well as with the people around us in our real lives. There’s a reason why homes used to have front porches and on those porches were rocking chairs, swings, gliders. That gentle motion of back and forth, that slowing down of time, that careful consideration of words: it all matters if we’ll allow it.

6 Comments

  1. Cyndi on May 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Lovely – and much needed – reminder.

    • Lee Martin on May 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks, Cyndi! These are good front porch days!

  2. Sophfronia Scott on May 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    This is wonderful, Lee, and I agree with all of it. I’m graduating with my MFA in July and I’ve been thinking about everything I’ve learned in these two and a half years. I realize I don’t write faster because of it all–I write slower. Your post is a good explanation of why this is.

    I too go back to pen and paper–in fact doing so right now as I revise my novel–but when it comes to sitting and thinking I prefer the bathtub. Guess I’m just a water gal!

    • Lee Martin on May 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Perhaps the more we know, the slower we go!

  3. John Zulovitz on May 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Lee,

    Wonderful, instructive advice you’ve offered here.

    For me, writing goes more smoothly and rhythmically when I’ve a keyboard under my fingers. I suppose this is because I learned to type when I was eleven years old.

    To explain:

    In the seventh grade, on the first day of class, I recall vividly my English teacher, Mrs. Casey, instructing us students that our first homework assignment was to write something. She didn’t care what it was, nor the form in which we wrote it, nor the length of the piece. A story, a poem, a journal entry — as long as there were words on paper that gave her an idea of each student’s writing style, she was good with it.

    That evening, I went home and decided I’d write a story. Which I did. Which resulted in twenty pages written in longhand. When I finished, my hand was largely numb and burning, with the fingertips tingling, as if they’d gone to sleep.

    The following day, when I handed my sheaf of papers to Mrs. Casey, her eyes widened and her mouth curled into a smile. “My goodness!” she said. Immediately, I apologized. But Mrs. Casey was quick to assuage me. “No, no; this is wonderful,” she said. “I can’t wait to read it.”

    And read it she did.

    The following day, when I arrived for class, my teacher took me aside. “You’re a writer,” she said. “You’ll do something with this.” They were words that filled me with excitement and joy and left me feeling equally buoyant and dizzy. Through my daze, the following words penetrated, coming from Mrs. Casey: “Will you read this aloud to the class?”

    Usually, I would have felt trepidation at filling such a request. When younger, it was I who was always chosen to sing solos in the school choir — something I enjoyed, but which also filled me with something approaching dread. Who knows? Maybe that’s something everyone experiences when he has to stand before an audience of his peers and their parents and belt out the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” (ha ha).

    But that day in English class, I felt little to no fear — a strange occurrence, to be sure. But looking up and taking in Mrs. Casey’s benevolent expression — her kind eyes, her glowing apple cheeks, her vaguely elfin nose — I found myself answering without hesitation: “Yes, ma’am.” And so after roll had been taken, Mrs. Casey told the other students that she (and I) had a treat for them. She looked at me and nodded, saying, “All right, John. Come up here where everyone will be able to see and hear you better.”

    Little did I know it, but my freshman oratory that day in late summer started a pleasurable precedence. For in addition to the regular work assigned in English class, I was also encouraged by Mrs. Casey to continue writing stories on my own, which I would then read aloud to the class — stories that were often long, and which I think my fellow classmates enjoyed 1) because they liked the stories, and 2) because my reading of the stories took up a nice portion of the period (ha ha).

    As my writing progressed, my mother — though herself excited and encouraging — noticed that I was developing a rather large indentation in the fingers of my writing hand (I’m a South Paw), and she voiced concern that I would “ruin my hand” with so much writing. Which is why, I suppose, that I received my first typewriter that Christmas. “You can write all you want now,” my mother told me as I opened my present, “and not worry about hurting your hand.”

    And since then — only occasionally reverting to pad and pen — I have written using a keyboard. My first typewriter (an electronic Smith Corona with a whitish-gray body) has long since been retired, and was followed by a gallery of other typewriters, likewise retired; and with the advent of the personal computer (and Microsoft Word and Final Draft), I have continued to “play the keyboard,” as it were. I find I’m able to keep up with my train of thought (or the characters’ train of thought) with more facility.

    I do, however, remember the joys of longhand: writing at my desk or sitting in my bed with an album cover (we’re talking the ancient days of vinyl here!) balanced on my knees in lieu of a writing-board; smelling the sharp scent of graphite; feeling the smooth grain of paper under my fingers; seeing all of that space from which I would create something substantial and (I hoped) magical; and filling line after line until a new page was necessary.

    One thing, however, has been a mainstay: the beloved chair — to which I also still retire so that I may sit and think; where I am able to become still and quiet in order to allow the characters to come to me and start providing me with images and clues and bits dialogue that inform the stories they want me to tell. And it is also where I go when I want to curl up and read a good book, take in some poetry, and sample other lives created by writers whom I admire and for whom I have deep reverence.

    In the three decades that have passed since the day Mrs. Casey so kindly encouraged and validated for me a passion about which I, until that moment, had felt timorous, one constant remains: the delicious joy and challenge of allowing myself to be a medium through which others speak.

    Sometimes I wish I could still write in longhand and be able to keep up with my thoughts as expediently as I once did. I even tried it; but it wasn’t to be. I’ve found digitalized pages through which I scroll work just as well (if not better) for me as those I can pick up and turn by hand.

    But the chair remains vital: a haven, a refuge, a place where I can become a mental traveler. Rather like Macon Leary in Anne Tyler’s “The Accidental Tourist” (a lovely novel), I feel as if my chair has wings, which take me aloft on journeys of my own or others’ devising.

    • Lee Martin on May 29, 2014 at 8:25 pm

      Beautiful, John! Thank goodness for the likes of Mrs. Casey!

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