ancient typewriterSince we stopped using quills, fountain pens and manual typewriters, the act of writing has become more abstract—symbols on a screen whose existence is mainly virtual.

It’s a blessing. Henry James handwrote himself into carpal tunnel syndrome and had to resort to an amanuensis. George Orwell complained of the exhausting physical work of writing: drafting, editing, re-typing, rearranging, the frustration of having to abandon large lumps of painfully constructed text when a work takes a wrong direction and, finally, the huge task of producing a clean final copy of a manuscript.

Some lucky individuals loved the process of writing: Arnold Bennett took pride in the beauty of his finished handwritten manuscripts: obviously he was robust enough to resist writer’s cramp and he achieved a prodigious output.

But separation from the physical act of writing can have its disadvantages. However much the computer has eased the writer’s task, it’s not much help when the flow of creativity comes to a stop, as it inevitably will for all but the most compulsively prolific. Often, too, wandering about the web in search of inspiration can be little more than a mildly guilty displacement activity.

One way out of this is to learn or to regain the pleasures of the act of writing. Ballpoint pens and cheap scratchpads won’t do: buy yourself a fountain pen (yes, they’re still being made) and make it the best you can afford. Then look for an old-fashioned notebook, one with smooth creamy paper and faint grey lines, preferably leather-bound with a ribbon to keep your place. They come in various sizes and you might want a small one for pocket or purse and a bigger one for your desk.

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