“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”
For the last twenty-odd years, in the little space on forms labelled Occupation, I’ve almost unthinkingly put the word “writer” .
But the truth is, while crafting words still forms a large part of my paying (and more often, non-paying) work, I’m no longer asked to deliver a defined volume of words (measured in column inches or recorded minutes) to be set in a visual (or aural) space by someone else.
These days I’m a more content creator than copy-writer. And while the well-paid agency gigs of the 1990s are a distant (and lovely) memory, I enjoy having control over how my words look as well as how they read.
Note the “as well as.”
For when words are no longer crafted as a separate entity, but become a “text as image” adjunct, they can become devalued. I’m noticing that as communication becomes more and more visual, a lot of writing — even that created by those paid to do so — is sloppy, confused, sometimes barely literate. Perhaps audiences have become sloppy readers.
The typewriter is an apt symbol of this shift. The physical reality of the keys determined the shape of the letters, the words, the page. Emphasis came from CAPS, underlining, or s p a c i n g out the letters. There were no visual distractions; no place to hide. If the words weren’t powerful enough to grab readers, you lost them.
I don’t miss typewriters, with their inability to forgive mistakes. Before I started putting “writer” on my forms, I was a student. Before that a secretary. In those roles, I typed and re-typed pages to produce error-free documents for my lecturers and bosses.
Or replacement documents. When the Health Inspector for whom I’d spent hours typing Notifiable Disease reports let them slip from his hand in a high wind, I was reloading the Remington with blank forms (in triplicate) even as my morning’s work fluttered wetly around the office car park.
I like working with visual media. I like learning to craft images the way I have learned to craft words; to attract attention, shape moods and to tell stories. When I get it right, words and pictures are in harmony. Sometimes I feel I’ll never leave the rehearsal room; other times, I’m happy to busk.