Tuesday, February 27, 2018

From Typewriter to Pen

Susan here: This post by Fred Rife came along at an opportune moment. I was reflecting on the value of journal writing in my own life when this came across this blog post on that very topic. Fred said it so beautifully, I wanted to share his words with our readers. He has graciously allowed us to repost it here.

Fred's Journal
Guest post by Fred Rife

I’ve been reading about writers’ choices of tools for getting words into the world. Some write exclusively by hand in journals, or by hand as they create draft upon draft while working towards a published piece. Others use computers, and others bypass finger usage and dictate verbally into recording devices.

While thinking about the methods and almost-religious fervor with which writers prefer their chosen method for extracting words from their souls, I remembered my first experience using a machine to write nearly fifty years ago.

As a boy of about eight years, my dad took me to his office on weekends as he caught up on reports or other work. He let me “help” him by teaching me to use the office typewriter. The typewriter felt like magic as I rolled a piece of thin paper into the carriage and began striking keys with my fingers that caused metal-armed letters to hit the ink ribbon, seeing the letters on the paper, the clickety-clack of striking the keys, the bell ringing as I learned to throw the carriage return back to the left and begin a new line.

While writing in my journal today I began remembering my journey from that heavy, mechanical device to electric typewriters to desk computers to my current laptop. I’m remembering how, with each new device, I thought the improved technology would make me finally become a writer, how it would unleash my words that always seem stuck behind a wall covering my soul. As if writing is about tools instead of words.

I also remembered how, with that first typewriter, I began editing on the go by ripping page after page out of the machine and tossing them in the trash when I made even a single mistake. I’m still mining that memory and its implications across the years as I’ve struggled to lay perfection aside and simply write shitty first drafts.

In recent months I’ve begun writing in lined journals using a 0.5 mm micro black-ink pen. My handwriting has only ever been barely legible and I’ve always despised the slow speed of writing by hand. But after a personal coach encouraged me to keep a handwritten journal in recent years, I’ve begun to appreciate the tactile and contemplative nature of writing by hand. Initially I used a pencil for journaling but realized I was spending as much time erasing as actually writing, like my first typewriting experience. Writing now with a pen I’m less inclined to edit as I go, and I simply write to get words on the page, whether for my own viewing or to work into a piece of writing using my laptop.

I’m thankful for my new practice of writing by hand in a journal. It may not produce publishable pieces but at my age I’ve finally, and hopefully, learned that my first and most helpful goal is to simply mine the words from my soul.


Fred Rife lives and works in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He graduated from the US Naval Academy (political science major), piloted Marine Corps KC-130 flying gas stations, and has spent many years serving humanity as a state government bureaucrat. He’s married to artist Jennifer Rife, and their daughter, Michaela, is a PhD candidate in art history. The family talks a lot about visual, literary, and music culture, and they binge watch Parks & Recreation. In previous decades Fred wrote personal columns and opinion pieces for small-town newspapers. Today he runs from politics and conflict, and leans in to things of peace and beauty. He avoids topics in his personal writing that might jeopardize his exciting life as a bureaucrat. Fred’s on Twitter (@fredinwyo) and his newest blog site is Writing behind the lilac bush.