When I first got my iPad, I immediately changed the email signature to read, “Lovingly handcrafted just for you by Jason Snell.” I did it to remove Apple’s baked-in self-promotion from every email I sent, but in hindsight I think there’s something to the idea that words that spring from an iPad are not necessarily the same words that would come from other devices.
As anyone who has read my liveblog coverage of Apple press events may have guessed, I’m an extremely fast typist. On a physical keyboard, I can go as fast as 120 words per minute. My typing speed is no constraint on my brain. If I can think it, I can get it down—fast.
But I’m starting to suspect that my writing can change radically just by changing the method I use to get those words out of my head.
I’ve always had terrible handwriting, so once I got my hands on a computer and printer, all of my writing (aside from a few essay exams in school) has involved clacking away at a keyboard.
My first semester of grad school, I ended up spending two weeks away from my computer keyboard thanks to a delightful double-whammy of strep throat and mononucleosis. After a while, I got so bored that I decided to write with a pen on paper. It was all I had.
The funny thing is, I think about that experience to this day. Writing with pen and paper felt appreciably different from typing. My mind would try to race ahead, but my pen could only go so fast. I ended up considering every sentence, every word choice, with greater care simply because I couldn’t dash it out and move ahead. It was some of the best writing I’d done up to that time, and yet when I returned to school I immediately returned to my keyboard and never took up a pen again. Typing was just faster and easier.
Fast forward more than twenty years, to a few months ago. I had been approached by Marco Arment to write a story for his new venture, The Magazine. My deadline was at the end of a business trip, so I figured I’d find time to write on the plane or at the hotel. But as I packed for the trip, I decided to travel light and leave my laptop at home.
I only had my (full-sized) iPad, but I don’t like missing deadlines. So I wrote that story by tapping letter after letter on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard in Nebulous Notes, lovingly handcrafting (to steal the phrasing of my email signature) each sentence. And as I sat there on the plane, tapping against the iPad’s onscreen keyboard, I was reminded of that experience of writing longhand so many years ago.
Now, even on the iPad’s screen I’m a decently fast typist. (The iPad mini, not so much, at least not yet.) I certainly can type on an iPad much faster than I can write with a pen on paper. But it’s nowhere close to my speed on a MacBook keyboard. Using the iPad slowed me down and got me to think about what I was writing in a way that using my trusty MacBook Air never would.
I’m no Oliver Sacks, but I’d wager that I’m just not taking more time to choose my words, but I’m actually using different parts of my brain when I write this way. And not only does the actual act of writing feel different, but the end result feels different to me too.
The changes in writing environment go beyond the act of typing. The iPad also offers a remarkable lack of distractions. When I write on my Mac I find I am endlessly checking Twitter and email and my weather station’s current conditions page and anything else I can find to distract myself from the difficult task of putting one word in front of another. On the iPad, I am more focused—and when I do finally take a break to check my email, it feels like an actual break, not a distraction.
I can’t argue with the results. Pieces I’ve been promising myself to write for weeks remain empty text files in my MacBook’s Dropbox folder, while 800-word essays sprout from my iPad in no time.
I’m not sure if I’m a convert to writing everything on an iPad. Certainly, if I need to dash off a work email, my MacBook’s keyboard is the right tool for the job. But if I’m about to write something for publication, I now seriously consider the iPad every time.
It’s not quite saying that I will only write on a Royal typewriter or compose my sonnets with a quill pen, but… maybe it’s similar? Even in 2012, sometimes words are better when they’re lovingly handcrafted just for you… just like this story was.