top of page
  • Writer's pictureSam

Sloe Crafts: Writing

By day, I work in digital marketing.  My job involves working with some of the great wonders of modern digital living – social media algorithms, AI-generated ‘content’ and data integrations – none of which I really understand, but which I must use on a day-to-day basis.  To be honest, I can’t say I really understand the internet, fax machines or vinyl records either, so my – and I suspect others’ – inability to comprehend technology is perhaps nothing new.

These marvels are, of course, important and useful, and many of the conveniences we associate with modern life would be impossible without them.  You wouldn’t be reading this blog post today, for instance.  Yet – even as I am typing this on a laptop – I am aware of the distance that digital technology places between us and what we create.  There is a disconnect between my fingers and the words on the screen.

And then, a few months ago, I bought a typewriter.  It is a Remington Quiet-Riter from 1953, complete with ribbon and a case, rescued (for a small charge) from becoming scrap metal at the nearby recycling centre.  It is reassuringly sturdy, in immaculate condition and, at least in my eyes, beautiful.

A Remington Quiet-Riter typewriter

(By the way, the laptop I am writing this blog post on was built in 2018, is held together with gaffer tape, has a broken cooling fan that ticks rhythmically without whirring, and has to be kept plugged in to the mains at all times, making it less portable than the 9kg typewriter.  It could hardly be called ‘beautiful’, either!)

More importantly, when I am using the typewriter, without a layer of digital technology getting in the way, I feel intimately connected with the words I am typing.  I can understand how the movements of my hands and fingers are imprinting words on the page.  If I lift the cover of the typewriter, I can even see the mechanisms working: watching my thoughts imprinting themselves on the page.

A close-up on a typewriter, writing this blog post

Of course, it takes longer to type, it is impossible to correct mistakes, and I need to carefully plan the layout of my pages.  The typewriter occupies more space, and therefore requires more time to set-up than a laptop, meaning any typewriting must be planned in advance.

Yet, all of this is what makes the process so satisfying.

Writing as a Craft

Writing may seem a strange place to start a series of posts on crafts: it is not what most people imagine when they think of ‘crafting’.  Yet, as someone who, from a young age, has dreamed of being a writer, and who spends most of their time outside of work either writing or reading other people’s writing, it is understandably an important craft for me.

Of course, I still do the majority of my writing on a computer, though I usually write the first drafts of my blog posts and articles by hand in my journal.  There are many benefits of keeping a journal – for retaining information, for improving wellbeing – yet, for me, the greatest pleasures of journalling are in transforming the smooth, silken pages of a pristine (usually Moleskine) notebook into the indecipherable mock-Braille texture of densely-written pages, and in the satisfying plumpness of a fully-completed notebook.  There are no digital equivalents.

A handwritten reading list, surrounded by inspirational reading

In response to questions about using technology to complete her famous daily Morning Pages exercises, Julia Cameron insists that they really must be done ‘by hand’, because when she writes by hand, she can ‘connect securely to what [she is] creating’.  She explains that ‘we get a truer connection – to ourselves and our deepest thoughts – when we actually put pen to page’, and the slower pace of writing by hand offers ‘real and surprising clarity, offering insights we would have otherwise missed.’  Her handwritten Morning Pages are regularly cited as being a vital tool for the creatively-minded.  Just Google ‘morning pages’ if you don’t believe me!

The Technology of Writing

Printing has been happening alongside writing since ancient times, and even after the development of movable type printing in China in the eleventh century, and later in Europe by Johannes Gutenberg in the thirteenth century, it still coexisted with handwriting.  Some of the skills of the manuscript scribe, who would create beautiful, finalised documents, may have been replaced by printing, but handwriting was still the norm for most (literate) people, even after the commercial success of the typewriter from the late-nineteenth century onwards: handwriting remained essential for creative and personal writing, while printing and typewriting was used for publishing and formal purposes.

It was only really with the development of word processing that this changed, and the infinite flexibility of the computer came to unite both the creative and publishing processes of writing.  Yet I am not alone in finding my creativity stimulated by handwriting.  In fact, I’m in very good company: not only Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and J K Rowling prefer to write first drafts of their novels by hand, but (of course) every author writing before the invention of the computer.

Anyone who – like me – reads most of our contemporary bestselling titles with despair will agree that perhaps we wrote better when we did it by hand.

Generative AI is new: an existential threat to those of us who want to preserve the skill of writing as something people can do as a hobby or make living from.

Of course, technology is changing again: the explosion of AI into the world of text-generation has completely changed the landscape of blog and magazine feature writing, and is beginning to penetrate the world of book writing as well.

To see generative AI as just another in a long history of ‘threats’ to writing is to miss the point: all previous technological innovations, from the Gutenberg press to the computer word processor, have only sought to change or improve the method of writing, but never to replace the role of the creative writer.  Generative AI is new: an existential threat to those of us who want to preserve the skill - the craft - of writing as something people can do as a hobby or make a living from.

In a previous post, we wrote about the Heritage Crafts Association, which monitors skills and crafts that are in danger of disappearing.  With AI-written books being sold on Amazon, and with companies making staff redundant because AI is replacing their work, how long until writing appears on one of their lists?

So, for this, and for many other reasons, I encourage you: next time to you are sitting down to write, take your time, enjoy the process, and do it by hand.


If you would prefer to read this blog post in a version I have typewritten, please download a copy here.


bottom of page