Seek Friction

A couple great takeaways in this interview with David McCullough from The Paris Review.

The first, LOOK AT YOUR FISH (as shared by Austin Kleon, check out his summary here) is a great reminder that the answer is often right in front of you. The question is whether you’re able to see it.

The second is McCullough’s description of his process of writing on his typewriter:

I love putting paper in. I love the way the keys come up and actually print the letters. I love it when I swing that carriage and the bell rings like an old trolley car. I love the feeling of making something with my hands.
Don’t you love that? For McCullough, writing isn’t merely a mental task, conveying abstract ideas from his brain to his readers’. His hands and senses are part of the process, part of making his work enjoyable.

As of this 1999 interview, McCullough still refused to switch to the “more efficient” computer as a writing tool. As he continues:

People say, But with a computer you could go so much faster. Well, I don’t want to go faster. If anything, I should go slower. I don’t think all that fast. They say, But you could change things so readily. I can change things very readily as it is. I take a pen and draw a circle around what I want to move up or down or wherever and then I retype it. Then they say, But you wouldn’t have to retype it. But when I’m retyping I’m also rewriting. And I’m listening, hearing what I’ve written. Writing should be done for the ear. Rosalee reads aloud wonderfully and it’s a tremendous help to me to hear her speak what I’ve written. Or sometimes I read it to her. It’s so important. You hear things that are wrong, that call for editing.
The promise of technology has been to make work more efficient, to reduce friction. But here McCullough describes this “friction” as making his work better, and more enjoyable (which echoes author Wendell Berry’s sentiment in his essay, Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer).

Friction can be beneficial for writing, but also for reading, which is why reading an book on an iPad screen might never be the same as flipping the pages of a physical book. The friction is part of what makes reading enjoyable.

If we’re looking to think more deeply, do better work, or find more satisfaction in it, maybe we should stop avoiding friction, and start seeking it out.

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