Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

What Do You Mean, “You Like To Write”?

What Do You Mean, “You Like To Write”?

By Dennis D. McDonald

Tell me something about yourself

I was attending a seminar last week on how Alexandria Virginia's local government operates. One of the speakers started out with a little exercise: "Turn to the person sitting next to you. Describe something about you that he or she does not know."

The first thing that popped into my head and out of my mouth was, "I like to write."

That's a true statement. I write for work and for pleasure. As much as I enjoy writing it's not always easy. So, what is it about writing that I do like?

Sometimes I use a computer and keyboard. What I really prefer doing is to first put my thoughts on paper using a pen or pencil. Then if what I write is intended for a broader audience I convert the handwriting to a text file I can then edit using my computer. I once documented the process I follow here.

There are at least two types of reasons why I like writing.

One: the writing process

The first is the process of writing itself. I like to write first drafts of blog posts, letters to families and friends, and longer pieces on paper using a fountain pen, gel pen, or pencil. I like to see how the ink appears on the paper and the actual touch of the pen or pencil on the paper.

Even though a lot of my non-letter writing will be converted to electronically editable text, I feel that I think better about what I'm going to say when I use a pen or pencil on paper.

I’m a lousy typist. When composing directly from the keyboard I find myself editing and fussing over individual words and phrases even before I reach the end of a sentence. When I go directly to paper using a fountain pen (as I'm doing as I write this) I do a better job of thinking things through the first time. This saves time in the long run especially with pieces that span multiple pages.

This act of writing, when you do it a lot, eventually makes you very aware of the physicality of the process. After a while you may find yourself acutely aware of how well -- or poorly -- certain pens and paper interact. With certain combinations of the two you find your pen laying down a smooth, solid, and clean line as it glides across the paper with barely any pressure. With other combinations you'll scratchily reach the end of a page feeling as if you've been pushing a loaded wheelbarrow up a hill.

Over time you'll get a feel for which combinations work and which don't. This is where some people veer into an almost obsessive interest in the vast world of pens, pencils, paper. (If you want to understand this obsession a bit more, listen to a couple of episodes of The Pen Addict podcast.)

Two: the reading process

It's nice when your stuff gets read, of course. I find this to be especially true in the case of handwritten letters. I write a couple every week to friends and family members who by now are spread across the country.

And sometimes I can get a letter back! My brother in Arizona, for example, often sends an email preceding his next handwritten letter to which he attaches scanned images of whatever he's writing about (he's an artist). That’s always fun.

People when I say that I like to write letters will often be surprised and ask follow-up questions like, "You mean, handwritten letters? In cursive? Wow!”

The truth is that many people are ashamed of their own handwriting and may resort to sending a typed letter or even an email in response. That's fine with me, of course.

What do I write about in letters? It depends on who is the recipient and what I think might interest them. (I discussed some of this a couple of weeks ago here.)

People like to hear about what their children are up to especially if they live in separate towns; that's a no-brainer. If I know someone is going through a tough time I’ll write about pleasant or familiar topics. For the elderly mom of a deceased friend I'll sometime slip in a fun memory of her son. When our daughter was in the Peace Corps and working in a mountainside Dominican Republic village without access to electricity or the web I wrote about ordinary family stuff.

There are also the weather, the changing of the seasons, and how different parts of the country are experiencing our changing weather patterns. And there are unusual or surprising events to report, like a major snowfall, some fun civic volunteer activities, or our adult son finally cleaning out his bedroom closet after having lived elsewhere for almost 10 years.

The bottom line

I enjoy writing. When I write letters I'm also saying, "I think enough of you to take time out of my day to package up my own thoughts and experiences in ways you might find interesting or entertaining." When that sentiment is acknowledged in return, as it sometimes is, that's like the icing on the cake.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. To find more articles like this scroll down. To find out more about my consulting services go here.

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