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Just for the Health of It

The Reluctant Author

The first award I won in elementary school was for my English work. Looking back, this is something of a surprise. Later on, my English teachers would describe my handwriting as “the trail of a messy spider crawling over a page, after a particularly rowdy party.” But at the time, my ambitions curiously included the hope to be an author, along with the usual fare of explorer, astronaut and captain of industy. I reasoned that I would still have time to write on my days off. I was an annoyingly precocious child.

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Oddly enough, mathematics proved to be my real academic strength. Which was just as well. Writing to me was becoming an exercise in torture. Left-handed people should never be forced to write in fountain pen. It is a cruel and unusual punishment for us. The process of composition became agonisingly slow, as each sentence would be writ, like the Law of the Medes and Persians – with no changes permitted. Re-writing an essay would be a chore too far.

And so, I escaped into the more forgiving world of numbers and algebra, where a page of untidy activity would result in a succinct and concise proof. That is, until the day I entered the world of the trainee teacher…

“You will submit four short essays of 1500 words, and one long essay of 6000 words,” we were told by our tutor. Ashen faces filled the room, with eyes like rabbits caught in a car’s headlights. Our peers from the Arts courses stammered, “B-but you can’t even write an introduction in 1500 words!” Meanwhile we mathematicians were wondering if we had ever seen as many as 6000 words in one place before.

I found my salvation in a new toy – a word-processing program. For the first time in my life, I could edit, redraft, move paragraphs around and experiment with sentence structures. I could type faster than I could write, my fingers could keep up with my thoughts, and then I could review them, discarding the chaff, improving the quality of what remained on the page. No crossings out, no painfully slow re-writes.

People sometimes ask me whether the use of information technology has any place in a creative curriculum. Just ask the left-handed kid who wants to express themselves on paper, but can’t find the time to do so.

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