There are certain tools that can help in the writing process. Think of a keyboard, for example, as the equivalent of a rock musician’s guitar. Just as a musician would only want to perform before an audience with a quality guitar, a professional or serious writer will definitely want to invest in a good keyboard.
I’m often asked—by students and others—to explain the writing process. I must admit, some days writing comes faster to me than other days. While I haven’t experienced any kind of long-term writer’s block, I have experienced what might be called writer’s hesitation—hours and days in which words come into my brain slowly and haltingly and only with some trepidation. Other days, though, words pour forth in a kind of insane torrent. Thankfully, the latter has been the norm throughout most of my adult life.
When I was in graduate school, I had several years of hours upon hours of distraction-free writing, and, at the time, I assumed that would be the norm of my adult life.
I grew tired of my dissertation topic, though, after completing the dissertation in late 1998, and, as much as I wanted to write about lots and lots of things, I didn’t want to write about the dissertation topic anymore. It was a fine topic—the role of the frontier, the French, and the American Indians during the American Revolution and the War of 1812—but I had been burned out on it. I’d had enough, and I wasn’t sure where to take it after that. Enter Winston Elliott, publisher of The Imaginative Conservative. I had known Winston since the summer of 1995, and we became fast friends. When I told him how tired I was of American Indians on the frontier during the American Revolution, he challenged me. He asked me, “If you could write about anything, what would it be?” I answered without hesitation, “I want to write a book on the Catholicism of J.R.R. Tolkien.” Winston, then and there, promised me that if I wrote the book, he would do everything possible to help me get it published. We each lived up to that agreement, and I’ve been writing non-stop ever since.
One of my graduate teachers, Anne Butler, always argued that every writer should write at least one paragraph per day to maintain his or her art. In other words, the skills of a writer come from practice, not necessarily from nature. Largely, I think this is true, but I also realize that certain writers have an artistic flair, not universally shared.
As I’ve had the chance to argue at The Imaginative Conservative, there are certain tools that can help in the writing process. For those who like to write in a straight-forward, linear fashion—like a note card followed by a note card—Microsoft Word and Apple Pages are simply excellent. Both programs can do rather complicated things, but their presentation of their most basic functions (what most of us need and use) is intuitive and quite logical.
If you’re more interested in non-linear writing—which is, by far, the most creative type of writing—you can use the extraordinary English (as in England) application, Scrivener. It has a steep learning curve, but it also does things brilliantly, allowing the user to shift entire paragraphs and even whole chapters with a few swishes of the mouse.
I also highly recommend getting the best keyboard possible. Think of a keyboard as the equivalent of a rock musician’s guitar. You wouldn’t want to stand up and perform before an audience with just any guitar. You’d almost certainly perform with a Gibson or a Fender or something custom made. If you want to write professionally—or even as a deep hobby—you definitely want to invest in a good keyboard. My favorite types of keyboards are mechanical or gaming (don’t let the name fool you—gaming keyboards are generally some of the best out there, whether you game or not). As I see it, Apple makes the best computers, but its keyboards are uncomfortable and too minimalist. Fingers get tired after spending too many hours typing on a Mac keyboard. Companies such as Das Keyboard, Macally, and Logitech make excellent mechanical keyboards—the type that remain comfortable throughout a day’s worth of typing.
As it turns out, I’m typing this essay on my latest acquisition, the Freewrite Traveler from Astrohaus. I actually helped crowdfund it back in late 2018, but it’s just now coming to market. It’s one sleek device, healthy for the hands and the mind. And, because there’s no access to Facebook, email, Twitter, or any other myriad distractions, healthy for the soul. The keyboard, though not exactly mechanical, is truly a thing of wonder. Indeed, to imagine this Traveler, think of a normal-sized keyboard attached to your Kindle. This is essentially what the Traveler is. It’s supposed to stay charged for several weeks (I’ve not had my long enough to verify this), and it’s the most portable device I own now—except for my Kindle.
Again, though, with the Traveler, there are no distractions from the internet or any part of the internet. It’s just you, a keyboard, and a screen. The Traveler automatically saves your work, and you, when ready, send it to your email account by simply hitting the “send” button. Astrohaus claims this setup allows for one to overcome writer’s block. Honestly, this claim seems totally weird to me. Facebook doesn’t block me from writing; it distracts me from writing. Or, to be more blunt, I let it distract me.
Everyone, of course, has his own way of writing. Some of us like to have privacy and several hours in which to write. Others of us—especially when we have little kids—get a sentence or a paragraph in, whenever possible, rejoicing that we had two minutes to think and breathe. On a personal note, I have seven kids, five cats, and one dog. There’s life piled upon life in the Birzer house, and if I tried to wait until I had an hour or two of quiet to write, I would never get anything written at all.
Well, writing, thank the good Lord, remains a rush for me, and I rarely tire of it. But I must still go back to that conversation with Winston Elliott. What if he hadn’t challenged me? What if he hadn’t supported me?
Write, Birzer, write!
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay and has been brightened for clarity.