Clare has two computers. One is her personal laptop, the other is a loaner sent to her from her college when the campus went totally online. This past week both computers crashed within a few days of each other, and I had to give Clare my laptop to use for her classes. Except for an hour or two each day, I am now without a computer – and while it may seem counterintuitive, progress on my writing has actually improved. There are three reasons for this.

First of all, and most importantly, I went back to writing each morning with pen and paper. I’ve always known this to be the most effective way for me to draw out fresh ideas, but lately I’ve been going directly to my computer. When I hold a pen in my hand, words come to mind quicker than I can get them down on paper. Only one thought in ten is worth the time it took to write it, but the paragraph that comes out of that one good thought often is better than anything I compose on a keyboard. 

Secondly, I made a hard copy of the most recent pages of my manuscript so I’d have them with me while I was without my computer. For the first time in a long time, I am editing on actual paper. I immediately fell back into my old habit of writing in the margins, and some of those comments have been pretty good. I know that word processing software comes with comment tabs, but the stuff I write in those little computerized boxes never seems quite as insightful as my notes in the margins. 

Finally, not having a computer meant I could not easily put aside my manuscript every time I got bogged down. I could not stop writing to check emails or read the New York Times or do the Daily Beast crossword puzzle. I had no choice but to work through the slack periods. 

The IT geeks at either Best Buy or Grinnell College will soon have one or both of Clare’s computers up and running. If not, she and I will be making a trip to the computer store. One way or another, I’ll have my computer back by the end of the week. When I do, I hope I have enough sense to keep writing by hand.

Steven Simpson