Pause for Thought Photography Writing

On writing: Does how matter as much as what?

24/03/2016

Space for the Butterflies - Does how you write matter as much as what you say?

I have a weakness for Persephone books. It’s not that unusual to find a publisher whose style of stories you adore, I grant you, but in this case it’s not just that they publish forgotten gems (which they do, and it’s awesome), it’s the books themselves that I love, the soft grey covers, the beautifully patterned endpapers and matching bookmark, and lovely crisp smooth pages that are such a pleasure to hold and read. They are a tactile pleasure, as well as being great books.

The tactile pleasure of a good book or a beautiful magazine are to the content what our sense of smell is to taste; you can taste most things with a bunged up nose, but it’s never the same as when the aroma has built up all your expectations for the first bite.

It works both ways of course; how often have you rejected a pretty piece of paper for scrawling a random shopping list and gone for the back of the envelope instead? We choose the materials that we associate with the task.

I came across this very powerful case in point recently in an article from a Jewish parenting website; the story of a little girl coming home from school and asking what a swastika looks like. To me, and to the little girl perhaps, it’s a symbol of a very dark time in human history, but I don’t have any emotional connection to it, merely academic. To the mother though, daughter of two holocaust survivors it means so much more, and so she searches through the pencil box for the very nastiest pencil, digs in the bin for her daughter’s thrown away lunch bag, roughly sketches it out, and throws pencil and bag back into the bin. In answering her daughter’s question in that way she told so much more of the story of that symbol.

So what about when we write? I love beautiful stationery; lovely notebooks and colourful pens and I do make myself use the notebooks and not just save them.

Space for the Butterflies - Does how you write matter as much as what

(this one (from Esmie) is one of my favourite and prettiest that H bought for me on the way home from a business trip because he thought I’d like it better and it would last longer than flowers – he knows me well)
My pretty notebooks hold plans and ideas and random thoughts and sometimes even shopping lists and having a pretty planner definitely makes the world a happier place.

But for writing blog posts and anything else of a serious length, I’m bound to technology. I write on my iPad, in a cheery red case, balanced on my knee as the train whistles through the countryside on my way to work, tap tap tapping on a screen whose slight stickiness rather suggests that at some point in the last 24 hours, one of my children has tried to carry it off as treasure. It’s not exactly the romantic view of writing is it, all candlelight and flowing ink?

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This blog is my children’s baby book, and it’s a truer statement than you might think. I own physical baby books for each of my three children but I have been astonishingly bad at filling them in. I think Kitty’s might still be waiting for her birth story, and Elma’s peters out after the first five weeks, although I did do those very diligently. The truth is that my stories of being their mother are here. All those little milestones from first smiles, first steps, first words, right up to first day of school are in this little corner of the internet. It has allowed me to pepper my words with more pictures and snippets of video than I could ever print, and to share them, and in sharing, make connections and find friends.

One day I will print out the blog for the children, and when I do, it will be with pretty paper and a lovely binding but, in the meantime, have I just stumbled upon the perfect justification for ever more beautiful Apple products?

What impact does how I write and how you read them have on what I’m actually saying? And is it less somehow because they’re just on a computer screen?

My answer is that I hope not. When it comes to what I’m writing I’ve written rough drafts of blog posts everywhere from pretty notebooks to the side of an envelope and an increasingly solid stack of post it notes, without it changing the nature of the content, or at least I don’t think so.  Perhaps because I know the words will always end up here.

The actual tactile pleasure of reading may depend on how you’re reading, but as bloggers we get to choose the font and the colour and the size and the banner, and do everything we can think of to make is pretty and readable. And if the real answer is that yes, of course it changes everything, perhaps being able to share in a way that just wouldn’t be possible if I was trying to post you all letters is compensation enough – what do you think?

This is the second of my posts sparked from a Writing Map that I picked up last summer – this week it asked about the tools of my trade and last week we were talking about when writing is easy and when the words dry up; that post, and the fascinating comments that followed it, is here.

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  • Jemma@listoflovelythings 24/03/2016 at 8:06 pm

    Oh how I love the idea of printing out your blog on pretty paper and binding it! Maybe our museums will be full one day of such beauties!

    • Carie 25/03/2016 at 10:26 pm

      Wouldn’t that be such a lovely 🙂

  • Rachel @ The Ordinary Lovely 24/03/2016 at 8:17 pm

    Carie, you are on fire with these posts!! So beautifully written and I wholeheartedly agree about the importance of beautiful stationery. And yes, my love of clean lines, navy and pink is very much applied to my blog. It’s my online notebook and I’ve selected the colours and fonts with so much care.

    • Carie 25/03/2016 at 10:25 pm

      Thank you lovely – I know I spent ages choosing colours when I did my redesign and soft blues are some of my favourites 🙂

  • Maddy@writingbubble 24/03/2016 at 11:23 pm

    Those books look gorgeous – I’m going to have to check out Persephone! I think the way what we write is displayed does matter to some extent. Some blogs draw me in visually before I’ve even read a word, while others I can barely look at. I’m also drawn to books by their covers. That said, as long as a blog/online article isn’t TOO bad visually, I can overlook it if the words captivate me… and although once upon a time I would have said I’d never give up books for a kindle, now I’m addicted to it. That’s a case of content (and ease of use) over presentation definitely. The kindle is just a functional item. Stories are king. I’d never thought of printing my blog out but I think that’s a rather lovely idea, especially for your kids! The Writing Map you describe sounds fascinating! Thanks for linking to #whatImWriting xx

    • Carie 25/03/2016 at 10:24 pm

      Oh you’d love Persephone – the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel I featured in this month’s Year in Books is a Persephone print and it’s lovely inside and out – I’d also recommend anything by Dorothy Whipple 🙂

  • Bex @ The Mummy Adventure 25/03/2016 at 10:35 pm

    Oh I love a pretty notebook, but I have a tendency to write on the first page and then change my mind about what to use it for. I have them all over the house, in drawers and nooks and buried in children’s toy boxes too.
    I find that the most important thing to me as a reader is that it is written well, not where or how. I can’t understand a sentence with an obvious spelling or grammar mistake, I just can’t get past it (despite the fact I probably make hundreds myself).

    • Carie 29/03/2016 at 9:02 pm

      I know what you mean about the spelling and grammar and yet I know I’m far from free from typos – I just see it and wince!!

  • sustainablemum 26/03/2016 at 6:24 pm

    The look of a blog is important to me if I click through for the first time, it has to catch me and pull me in. That means the overall look of it and the words I find on the page I have landed on. I find adverts a total turn off, depending on how prominent they are I might not go any further. They are annoying on a tablet too, which is what I do all my blog reading on, it is all to easy to inadvertently click on them.

    Having said all that, it is the words that matter. When you are new to blogging the layout design and templates can be bewildering. I know how much I cherished the support of experienced bloggers in my early days so I do the same for new bloggers whose blogs could perhaps do with a little tidying but the words are great.

    • Carie 29/03/2016 at 9:00 pm

      Hmm how interesting- I wonder how much it ties in with whether you are a visual person or not?

  • Claire @ Clarina's Contemplations 27/03/2016 at 7:29 pm

    Carie… This is gold dust… And I nodded my way through it! I love the idea of printing my blog off one day in beautiful colours and binding! Those books and notebooks are gorgeously pretty! Love!

    • Carie 29/03/2016 at 8:52 pm

      Thank you lovely – you have to try Persephone books, you’d love them!

  • Sara | mumturnedmom 29/03/2016 at 11:50 pm

    Another fabulous post Carie, this Writing Map is clearly wonderful 🙂 Even though I write on a computer screen, I spend a significant amount of time on the presentation (photos, graphics, layout) as well as on the words. I do think presentation is important. Having said that, beautiful words would be wonderful even on the back of a napkin!

    • Carie 31/03/2016 at 10:32 pm

      It’s certainly making my brain do a bit of work and it’s so much fun to see what ideas it triggers and where they end up!

  • Sally 31/03/2016 at 10:21 pm

    I’m coming to the end of this evening’s catch up, so I picked out the post I fancied reading next rather than carrying on in chronological order. I hope you’re going to carry on with your writing themed posts, I’m really enjoying reading them. And definitely when it comes to reading books, the look and feel of the book adds to the experience with me. I can’t imagine ever getting comfortable with a kindle, and I so much prefer a second hand book to a crisp, new book. But with writing I don’t feel the same tendencies at all. The convenience and practicality of being able to write into a screen, with your words and thoughts not properly formed yet and to shape/change/improve them easily as you progress (cutting and pasting is a wonderful thing for starters!) is just unbelievably useful to me!