I had a letter from a friend on thursday. She usually emails, but she said that she thought it would be interesting to write without having access to cut, copy and paste or the delete button.
At this end of the process there was a sort of childish excitement about the arrival of a handwritten envelope. It was not my birthday and too early to be a Christmas card. Besides, it obviously contained several pages.
It was a lovely letter on several levels. I knew that my friend had started out with a plan of what she would write. There was a beginning, a middle and an end. What made it special was the emotion she expressed. Her thoughts were not deleted, or edited, they flowed from one subject to the next as a stream-of-consciousness: beautifully, poignantly.
I like sending and receiving emails. I like to think that I’ve successfully transferred my letter voice through to the electronic medium. Even when sending business communications, I’m prone to personal observations and pleasantries, despite knowing that I’m supposed to follow the format of a memo, and aim for brevity. But I am also aware that email is a self-conscious form of writing. I edit and adapt as I create, just as I would for fiction, looking for repetitions and anomalies, and swapping paragraphs round to create a better flow.
On the page, I write around my mistakes. I use fiction strategies like flashbacks to shift through events. Or if my writing gets away from me, I adapt my plot: I might find another way to say what I had planned, or, if something more interesting has come up, I’ll let go of the original plan altogether. Quite often I write things I did not expect to.
I suppose what my friend’s letter reminded me was that when I want to get to the heart of something I always return to paper. So I shall not be replying with an email, I’m off now to blow the dust off my writing pad and sort out my favourite pen.