I used to write research papers in a single evening. I would slog on through 20 pages, even if it meant pulling an all-nighter. To me, it wasn’t a question of sleep or of planning, it was a matter of continuity. I wanted the first draft of anything that I was doing to be done in a single mindset. Surely, it would get better over time, but plowing through a set of research and having a single thesis could only be done in one night. I would write out starts of sentences, I would rewrite the first paragraph 20 times. I would brainstorm behind my cursor for hours. And then I would write. I would write so much and so fast that it seemed there was nothing more important than the next words coming across the screen. All of my fast typing skills from instant messaging my friends on IRC in middle school payed off in these long sessions. When I had a thought, it would almost create itself, coming shooting out of my fingertips across those keys. It was all I could do to keep the momentum and the pressure of my mind on the topic at hand. It was all about the rest of the clean white page. I had to fill it, at all costs.
The one thing I never did, though, was fill it with extra space. I would never double space my work until I was finished. I knew that writing two pages with narrow margins and double spaced paragraphs was cheating. It was letting the length limit dictate my writing. It was letting the confines of the platform tell me when to stop. And stopping wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to write until the ideas would no longer come. Until I proved my point, I couldn’t be done. That moment, though, of selecting all of the text I had just crafted and pushing the lines away from one another was sweet satisfaction. It was made everything right, even if I knew there were still grammatical and logical errors in my work. That decision set more than the type. It made it so that everyone could see just how expansive my arguments were and just how much work I had done in my overnight experience.
And I would print out my essays and reports and short stories so that they could be read and commented on by my capable professors. They required this convention so that each one of them could add their critique within the letters I had cobbled together. They literally wanted to read and write in between my lines.
I wonder if this experience is a lost contentment. Will those in the future of digital submissions and blog post reflections ever know what it is to be done, to double space and set things right with the world? Will they ever be able to write on their own without the distractions of Facebook messages or texts? Will there be a moment in the early hours of the morning where the triumph over a single topic is so absolute that you can grab each line and stretch it out into two?
Probably the future of text is in the hyperlink and not in the format. Double spacing probably won’t mean anything to my children. Hand written comments will give way to metadata. It will be tagged and annotated, not red penned. I think this is overall a wonderful advance into a brave new tomorrow where there is no such thing as losing a story due to hard drive failure or losing a notebook. The blog, though, is no substitute for the quiet victory of typesetting a momentary masterpiece. The moment where content gives way to margin play is one I will miss. It is a subtle loss, but a loss just the same.