At an SF convention once, I was on a panel with Peter Heck and Hannah Shapero. Peter is the author of the Mark Twain detective series, but he is also a fine banjo player. Hannah Shapero is an artist of some note in the genre. It was one of those panels about how we create things. I said, “When I get an idea, I have to tie a word to it. Once it’s tagged with a word, I can manipulate it.” Peter said, “Funny, I do the same thing, only I have use a musical note.” And Hannah said, “I have to use a color.” Then the panel disintegrated into one of those how-can-you-possibly-do-that discussions.
The point here is not that different creativities express in different ways — you knew that. What I want to think about here is the word ‘manipulate’. Because that’s what creation came down to for all three of us — the working of the raw material, by hand.
Some creative people don’t rely solely on their hands — dancers, opera singers, actors. But a huge majority of creativity is all hand work — everything that has to be made or managed in a physical form: bread, houses, spaceships, wine. It is no coincidence that opposeable thumbs are so imporant to humanity. The loss of your hands is crippling. (Look down — do you have your hand on your mouse, right this moment?)
For me, at least, writing is a hand work, just as much as knitting or painting. I wrote many books by hand with a mechanical pencil on 8 1/2 by 11 notepads. Although I’ve switched over to composing fiction straight on the keyboard into a Word file, lots of other stuff just has to be written down by hand: maps, lists, diagrams of the plot with swooping arrows to connect one bit to the other. And my computer table also has the current knit project sitting in front. When I can’t think of the next word or the next sentence, knitting a row or two helps loosen the system up. Wherever I go, I always have a knitting bag and a book. Planning trips always involves laying out a knitting project (has to be long enough to encompass possible airline delays) and books (if necessary, disposeable paperbacks that I can abandon en route) before mundanities like clothing and shoes. If I have to sit still without doing something with my hands, I fall asleep.
Luckily the handy quality of my writing is very portable. For years I went everywhere with a pad and pencil. Nowadays I am mulling over a jump to something like an I-Pad. Then I could write and read everywhere! And I could get a case like this.