The reality, of course, is that every writer’s individual habits and practices are deeply personal and idiosyncratic, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to extract patterns in support of generalizable conclusions – beyond the intense intimacy and commitment that the act of writing invariably demands. Some writers dictate aloud. Some write longhand and then type their work on a typewriter or computer. Some compose at the keyboard but then print out their work for handwritten revision. Others don’t need the hard copy. Some writers print everything out, mark it up, and then retype it themselves. Others hand it off to an assistant. A few still revise by (literally) copying and pasting strips of text. Some writers find the computer alienating, intimidating. Others see it as an intimate, profoundly unmediated experience. Some writers value the slowness of the pen. Some value the speed of the keyboard. Some chafe at the labor of retyping, others embrace it. Some writers are enamored by the small rituals of the process, the changing of the worn-out ribbon, the bright bell of the carriage return. Others are unsentimental. Some writers require an absolutely specific instrument – or setting, or time of day, or slant of light, just so. Others write on anything and everything, anytime, anywhere. Work your way through “The Art of Fiction” and its kindred features in the Paris Review – what George Steiner, in his own “Art of Criticism” interview, describes as “the largest collection of insight into this of any publication” – and you can find accounts describing all of these and more. The one inescapable conclusion is that our instruments of composition, be they a Remington or a Macintosh, all serve to focalize and amplify our imagination of what writing is.
– Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing ( Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), pp. 22-23
The skills of design are learned not in the abstract, but through the continued use of a system of tools. Tools have intrinsic properties, such as size and portability, but their qualities as components of design are not inherent in their structure, they only arise through usage. A pencil is a pencil not because it is a stick of graphite surrounded by a sheath of wood, but because it can be employed as a particular type of writing implement. When an individual writes with a pencil it is no longer a separate object but a conduit for ideas. Observers of a writer may reflect on the properties of the pencil and how the writer holds it, but for the person engaged in the flow of writing it does not exist as a distinct entity. Its “pencilness” only becomes apparent if there is a breakdown in the writing activity, for example, if the point snaps.
Thus, the properties of a tool only become apparent to its user when the tool ceases to be an extension of the self, in the event of some breakdown in its action.
– Mike Sharples, ‘An Account of Writing as Creative Design’, in The Science of Writing: Theories, Methods, Individual Differences and Applications, ed. by C. Michael Levy and Sarah Ransdell (Mahwah: Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Publishers, 1996), pp. 127-148 (p. 139)