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Tony Romano on writing...

Scratching the Paper

I made a breakthrough this past summer. I can now compose at the computer! Iíve always been able to compose letters, class assignments, work for textbooks, even essays, at the computer, but thatís because Iíve always considered this Nuts and Bolts writing. Thereís usually already raw material I get to work with. I just need to fashion it, hammer out the chinks, and polish and polishóand polish again. But this summer I started writing fiction at the computer. Fiction is the stuff of dreams, lies, half-truths. You have to squeeze ideas from cold air, and that little hum from the computer screen had always seemed like a pesty fly to me, as if IT were reminding me to come on already. Sounds a little psychotic, I know, but I finally convinced myself to defy the computerís taunting and sit there until the stories spilled out.

So why did I abandon my 0.3mm rolling pen that softly scratches the paper as it glides along, a sound Iíve always found satisfying? Iím not really sure. I do know that when I sit at a desk writing fiction, the process is painstaking; ideas dribble out in quiet spurts. On the other hand, when I write nonfictionóat the keyboardómy ideas flow fairly steadily. I donít worry as much about creating the perfect sentence. I write and forge ahead and know I can go back later and repair the clunkers. Some time last summer I thought, Hmmm, maybe I could apply this fairly productive technique to my fiction-writing. I could sit in front of a pulsating screen, and the story lies would break out in waves. That hasnít exactly happened, but I have been more productive. I donít censor myself as much during the first few drafts. I tap and tap and edit later.

Ah, but now Iíve created another monster. Iím tied to the computer. And since Iím committed to writing fiction in the morningóone habit I donít want to abandon just yetóI have to find a computer at the school where I work. And the computer needs to be in a room where I can be by myself without interruption for a good hour or two. Unless I decide to spend thousands of dollars on a laptop, which I donít want to do because my kids need new shoes, I have a problem, one which I havenít solved yet. This is only my third day back at school, so Iím not panicking yet, but Iím working on a novel and I have two characters sitting in a DeSoto, waiting for me to decide their fate. Whether they get out of that car through the scratching of the pen or the tapping of the keys is immaterial, I suppose. But they do need to get out. I feel them waiting.

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