Monday, May 27, 2013

Just the fax: What do you need to write?

I’ve been catching up on spring cleaning. As a writer, I don’t usually feel bad about being a paper junkie; I have a nice stash of stationery collected from various quaint shops visited during our road trips, a few shelves of media clippings spanning the years, and a small selection of files printed out for reference. Yet, when I was sorting through some dusty file folders, I discovered a displaced expense spreadsheet from 2002 and had to stop the binge/sort process to assess the situation.

In 2002, I was not yet working with my agent who helped steer my first book to publication, but the manuscript was in progress and nearing completion. In 2002, I was doing a great deal of freelance writing—reviews, cultural and event news, and the like—to supplement my more creative ventures. And, apparently in 2002, I earned myself a new computer to get all of the above accomplished.

In examining my expense sheet from more than a decade ago, it’s not the cost of the desktop that stopped me in my tracks. It’s the tiny little line item that shows my purchase of a basic fax machine—for $350.

During a holiday sale last year, I picked up a new fax machine for ten bucks after rebate. The ‘Brother 575’ isn’t fancy, but it does the job, particularly when there are so few demands for its use. It’s rare an editor sends a document over the landlines anymore. I have used this machine perhaps two or three times since its purchase, and mostly for cross-border business.

That original machine from 2002? I somehow felt I needed that on account of the contracts that were coming through by fax transmission way back then. Back then? Heck, that’s a mere decade ago. Yet it’s amazing how fast technology changes and how what was once a prime (and pricey) piece of communication now seems so archaic.

We all have artifacts collected during our writing and personal lives. We all have items we once considered necessities for our respective paths. Just last week, during a community writing workshop I offered, a student asked me what kind of computer she should buy. She had a pen and notepad ready to document what software, what brand of computer, what size of memory and capabilities would serve her best as she set out to write her first novel. I told her she had all she needed to complete the task, right there in her hands.

Paper. Pen. Write.

Yet sometimes we busy ourselves with ‘needs’ to distract from the real task. We wait for the perfect idea, the right time, when our schedule is clear, when our office is clean, when we have a better computer, or a more comfortable chair. Yes, environment is somewhat necessary to write in comfort. But we don’t need gadgets. We don’t need what will inevitably become artifacts on a shelf. We need only a pen and a stack of paper to get started.

Whenever I commit to the task of cleaning my office, I inevitably come across a piece of my own personal history that reminds me that no matter the gadgets or the fancy pens and cute stationery, regardless of software and hardware or even the style of font used, the one thing that is consistent, the one thing that remains the same over the years is my joy of writing. The writing continues with or without the ‘right’ utensils. Everything else is clutter on the shelf.

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