Pencil and White Paper Birch
May 13, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
This weekend I planted two birch trees. As a writer a common question I am asked is: “How many trees have you killed printing out scripts?” That always makes me feel guilty enough to take responsibility for my actions, and I plant some trees. As a writer, I prefer to write with a pencil that has an eraser. I think of an eraser as a manual “delete button”. And I like to write on tablets of paper when I create my outlines. I keep a pencil and a tablet of paper next to the bed in case I have a brainstorm in the night. I also like to write on airplane flights with a pencil and paper. And the other thing I like to do with paper and pencil is make sketches and designs. And, I never need electricity to write with pencil and paper. And I have found that is sometimes an absolute necessity.
There is something very personal about writing with a pencil. In my opinion, it is more artistic. I have been on a board of directors for a museum for the past nine years. Recently, the museum was given a collection of seventy hand-written letters that were written by a boy from Highland Park, Ill. who joined the Union Army during the first year of the Civil War. He was 18 when he joined and twenty when he finally returned home. His letters were written between 1861 and 1863. Each one is a work of art. His cursive hand-writing was very neat and precise, and it had a very florid style. He carefully chose each word that he wrote. Language has changed significantly since then, and it was interesting to see how he arranged his words. The experience of reading the letter was like hearing him think. This soldier wrote a very graphic narrative that gave his family a very complete picture of a soldier’s daily life during the Civil War. He traveled to many different locations during the war, and he always took time to write about other soldiers he crossed paths with from the Lake County, Ill. area. He mentioned names of the soldiers and which community they came from in case his parents crossed paths with them. Just holding the brittle letters in my hands was a moving experience.
When I was in the Army I wrote letters by hand, too, so I had to think before I wrote – which I still find is a helpful process. My wife still has my letters, and I still have hers. Two weeks ago, an Army Staff Sergeant who was serving his third tour of duty in Afghanistan wrote me a handwritten three-page letter and requested an autographed photograph from the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. He has a three-year-old daughter. So, I set aside some time and wrote him a letter back. I know I always looked forward to letters. I told him I wasn’t an Army Doughboy from WWI but I put my Army rank of SP5 after my autograph thinking he might get a kick out of it.
I knew I wanted to be a creative writer when I was in High School, and fortunately many of my teachers allowed me to write funny creative research papers. No one had computers back then, and all my blue book tests were handwritten with a pencil that had an eraser. In college, my short stories and plays had to be typed on a manual typewriter. Each page needed to be perfect before a professor would read it. It was a time consuming process. To this day, most feature film scripts are written on a computer program called “Final Draft” which emulates the way feature film scripts have always been written on manual typewriters in Courier Font 12. Final Draft has all the advantages of a contemporary computer, but it will not allow the writer to change the way it prints words onto the page. All feature film scripts need to be less than 100 pages because that is the first thing an agent or producer checks. Any script over 100 pages is rejected. Watching the film “Shakespeare In Love” was a revelation to me. It is hard to image how hard it must have been for Shakespeare to write something like King Lear. The hands of the actor who played Shakespeare were always covered with ink. That’s because Shakespeare wrote all his plays with a quill and ink. He couldn’t go to a store and buy paper. He probably wrote on parchment. The play King Lear is five hours long. Imagine writing that script out by hand for the actors. And there were no copying machines in those days -- unless you count Monks!
So, I think there will always be something special about a hand written document. And that is the personal touch of the writer. And years from now I will remember this article I wrote on a computer every time I look at the two birch trees I planted this weekend.