The internet says that the breakdown goes this way.
“Millennial” is a lot like “hipster.” Oh, he is, she is, and sure, most of my friends are, but I’m not like that.” I was born in 1977; the millennial generation’s inaugural class. I’d always thought I was late Gen X. The timelines vary, depending on which internet source you consult.
“What’s your sign?” I’d get that from time to time, back in my dating days. “Scorpio,” I would say, trying not to roll my eyes, and that response never failed to please (although other aspects of my appearance and personality certainly did). “Scorpio,” if it should happen to come up, was always a winner. It’s the one you want. Capricorn is the one you don’t. Same way with Gen X and Millennial.
I learned cursive in grade school. All of my writing, all of my schoolwork, was done in freehand, right up until 1992 or 1993, when mom bought us a Smith-Corona typewriter. In 1995 someone gave us a used IBM with a dot matrix printer. It had one of those green illuminated monitors that make you blind. A couple of friends had AOL in their homes as early as 1994, but I didn’t do any private surfing until I was away at college. If you’re around 40, your experience was probably similar. Our imaginations have one foot in the old way, one in the new.
This is the major generational break, in my opinion. Was the majority of your education expressed in freehand or via keyboard? If freehand, you are Generation Before. If by keyboard, you’re Generation After. The other generational markers—Boomer, Silent—count for something, we’re talking about now, and the now begins with the rise of the voracious digital hydra.
We have a nice writer’s series up here. I used to go to readings all the time. During the Q&A, one author—a famous novelist—was asked if he preferred freehand or keyboard.
“It makes no difference!” the writer exclaimed.
Process questions seem to annoy some writers. Others love them. People who attend readings—and that’s a type of person—are divided as well.
“I love her work, but I didn’t want to hear her going on about her ‘process.’ She has black coffee, an egg, and toast each morning? Who cares?” I heard a fellow attendee say this after a reading by an eminent non-fiction author. I considered butting into his conversation. “I care,” I would have said. “I love it when they share that stuff.” I didn’t butt in. I’m also too cowardly to ask questions during a Q&A.
Back to the freehand thing. Disagreeing with famous novelists is beyond my pay grade, but whatever. I do my writing at a desk, on a desktop computer—another age-identifying trait—but if I feel gummed up, I’ll switch to freehand on legal pads. Freehand is running naked. It’s anarchic, and your stuff flies all over the place. Typing is more like public speaking. You’re buttoned up and put together. You’re constantly worried about flubbing your words or going down the wrong road. But it’s organized. If you’re trying to write something—anything, business or creative—and you feel blocked, switch to freehand if you’re typing, or to typing if you’re working freehand.
Maybe this is a generational glitch. Our imaginations are the most vivid in childhood, and I wrote freehand as a child. Late-teens and beyond, I’ve been a typist. Imagination lacks structure; structure tends to lack imagination; if you want to write, you’ve got them dancing together. I’m keyboard-dominant, but freehand is always the thing I fall back on. It’s probably different for younger people who grew up with keyboards and touchscreens. Freehand isn’t drawing, but it’s closer to it. It hurts after a while. I’d take a penmanship class if they offered them, but who else would take such a thing?
“They’re going to start asking you a question,” I’ve been told. “What are you working on next?” That’s a mind-blower. I’m delighted to be in a position where anyone might ask me that.
I’m starting work on two books at once. One: a sci-fi adventure. I’ve been working on this one, in my mind, for 25+ years. Picture The Tripods Trilogy (loved those as a kid), mixed up with Blood Meridian, with a scaffolding something like Lord of Rings. I’d like to make a series of it, and it will be safe for all.
The other: an absurdist take on the road novel. A bit of On the Road, a bit of Fear and Loathing, a bit of Brave New World, and just a sprinkle of Story of the Eye. It will be safe for no one.
Which means, it was time for me to clean out my accordion file. It’s one of the bygone articles from Generation Before, and I love it. You can put papers in it. The dividers are numbered, and so are book chapters, so it works out great. If you’re trying to write a book, I recommend buying one. It contained all my notes, handwritten pages, printed pages, and discarded chapters from the past two years of work on Sommelier of Deformity. I’m putting all of that in a box, which will be stored alongside other boxes that contain earlier material. We’re still reviewing the uncorrected proofs of Sommelier, but I considered this cleanout to be the final parting between author and book.