Writers on Writing #120: Helen Chandler
I want to write only in the least committed way possible, that is, in email drafts or text messages I send to myself, notes on my phone or to-do lists on medical bills, because if I open a Word document to type something, however minor, I will have to give it a title to save it and there are only so many versions of thing.docx I can save before I have to make a Thing folder and it gets a capital T and becomes something I feel beholden to; this would be ‘working’, and I have, of late, become frightened of working. Not physical work or mindless work (the kind I do at the bookstore, which allows my mind to wander in directions like: women who buy religious books seem kind but are not. Men who buy history books seem like my father, but are not,etc.), but mindful work, the work I have chosen, work for which I must use my mind to untangle thoughts that have become tangled in my mind and—and this is key—actually finish something for once in my life. The problem, at its core, is an aversion to the mechanics of Microsoft word and computers in general, which require a user to commit the writing to the computer's memory before the writing has perhaps been fully committed to the user's, or writer's, memory, or heart if you like, that is, my own memory and my own heart, the latter of which is in a state of agitation, vis a vis work, and full of doubts about my ability to do it (and I ask: whose heart isn't, from time to time, so uncertain as to be useless as an instrument of guidance?). So I write in the ‘compose’ window on Gmail, which feels work-adjacent but not worth much—the writing itself is full of exclamation points, which I would never use in the kind of writing that happens in a Word document with its own name and folder—and by this low-level commitment I am calmed. I type.
Helen Chandler is an Irish writer living in Virginia. She has an MFA in fiction from UVA, where she teaches and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Meridian magazine. She is also an Assistant Director at the Young Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared on LitHub, in The Stinging Fly magazine, and elsewhere. She is at work on a novel. Find her on twitter @chandlerhelen.