I have a very distinct memory of the first time I wrote my name. I was about three years old, and my family lived on a hill several miles back into the woods. Our closest neighbor was a mile away, an older woman who kept her vicious pet geese in line with a plastic wiffle-ball bat.
The woman’s house caught fire one morning. She and her geese were unharmed, but her home was no longer habitable. My mother—good southern woman that she is—prepared enough casseroles to feed a platoon for weeks.
I made a card to send with the casseroles. I drew on yellow construction paper, painstakingly rendering the woman’s house and evil geese in crayon. On the back, I wrote my name by myself for the first time. The e was backward.
In kindergarten, I recall Miss Margaret gently tapping the back of my hand, reminding me not to grip the pencil so tightly. I remember learning the graceful curvature of cursive in first grade, in awe of being able to write the same language in two different ways. The callused depression notched my middle finger before I was ten, a comfortable groove my body was thoughtful enough to provide for me.
The plane of skin along the side of my hand, from the tip of my little finger down over my wrist, is almost constantly stained with graphite. I am never without notebook and pencil—there are three of the prior, seventeen of the latter in my purse right now.
I write everything in longhand. The notebooks containing the roughest drafts of my novels have their place on my shelves.
I cannot begin before a computer screen. The technology makes me feel distanced from my work. I need to feel the curve and connectivity of each letter as they are shaped by my fingers. I need the tangible texture of the paper and the sight of empty lines waiting to be filled. A blank screen has never been able to evoke inspiration in me, and the click of the keys, while mellifluous, isn’t as moving to me as is the glide and scratch of lead on a page. A blinking cursor is no comparison to tapping the end of my pencil against my upper lip.
Writing is a tender, unrefined endeavor, and it is never more raw, more immediate—more organic—than when I rely on the timeworn practice of setting ink to paper.