Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writing Comfort

My old computer finally went kaput about a month ago. It was an old computer which I got as a refurbished discounted model, and was always tempermental. In fact, when I installed a graphics card in it a couple of years ago, I found that I could no longer get the outer casing to close all of the way. I suppose I've never been a perfectionist, so I closed it as best I could and left it as it was. Frankly, I'm surprised it took this long for it to finally die on me.

Anyhow, my inert desktop computer sits lifelessly on my desk now, in the vain hope that I might somehow Frankenstein it back to life with the power of positive thinking or something. Meanwhile, I've been working off of my mother's old laptop, which is even older, but at least it works (and its parts aren't exposed to the elements). I have, however, found it to be sorely wanting as a writing computer.

Some of the problems are just little things, and others are faults of the laptop itself, such as the fact that some of the keyboard keys won't always work unless you pound on them. One of the keys is the space bar, which doesn't always register when struck on the left-hand side. As a lefty, I'm used to using my left thumb to hit spaces, which makes typing even brief e-mails and posts like this one an ordeal. There are also ergonomic issues involving sitting posture and hand position that make extended typing on this replacement computer uncomfortable.

One thing that appears to be unique to me is that the background screen color is white. For years, I've always had my MS Word and other document writing backgrounds automatically set to a green backdrop. I just find it far easier to read from a green screen (with either black or white lettering, depending on the shade of green), which is easier on my eyes. After a while, the brightness of the standard white background tends to give me a headache, and I've been working off of my old computer and its customized settings for so long that I'd forgotten that it wasn't how all computers are set up.

I've wondered if these things are just me being hyper-sensitive and picky about my own comfort level when I write. But for me, the writing process can be very draining, and maintaining a certain level of physical comfort is what keeps me going with it sometimes. I don't know if that's just being weak or lazy - I wonder if I could write back in the olden days when it was a quill and ink bottle under candlelight that were the writer's tools. Here I am griping about the ergonomics of the portable word processor complete with easy to use deletion and copy keys, as well as an automatic spellchecker and of course, the occasional computer game to entertain me during those times when I choose not to write. I wonder what Thoreau would have done if I'd given him my Mom's laptop to write Walden with? He'd probably beat me over the head with it.

Even so, I think it's important to have a certain comfort level when you're doing some serious writing. I don't know if it's true for everyone, but most of the writers I know tell me that they have a tendency to "nest" when they write, either typing or longhand. Some of them make a whole production out of it, getting a cup of tea and/or cookies, or perhaps some mood music going, and wrap themselves up in a blanket before they settle down to write. Part of it might simply be ritual, but whatever the reason, I think one has to be comfortable in his or her own skin before they can tap that creative part of their brain.

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