The Longest Way Round Is the Shortest Way Home

In a previous life, I wrote exclusively in block capital letters.

I don’t remember the exact date I started this habit – nor the reason why – but it lasted for about eight years. If you wanted me to write anything by hand, YOU GOT SOMETHING THAT LOOKED LIKE THIS. One time I wrote a very tender and heartfelt letter to a girl whose heart had captured mine and her response to it was “Why are you so angry with me?

And then one day on a sofa in Rome in 2016, I went back to writing the way I was taught to at school. Lower-case. Joined-up. Scruffy. Again, I don’t recall what prompted the change.

On a lark, I decided this morning to do my morning pages – three stream-of-consciousness A4 pages – in block capital letters. For old times’ sake. Just to see what it’d be like. It was quite a trip.

As early as the first paragraph, I could sense something different happening in my brain, and soon my reflections on the process ended up on the page, in a kind of movie-within-a-movie way. It was something like this:

I can type much faster than I can scribble long-hand, and I can scribble long-hand much faster than I can print in block capital letters. But other than the speed at which I got words onto the page, I didn’t expect there to be any difference between approaches. I, Oliver Manning, am the unchanging variable in all three situations – I’m the writer.

Well it turns out I was wrong. Dead wrong!

When I type, my fingers fly across the keyboard. I’m incredibly fast. I also don’t hit a lot of wrong keys like some people who type fast. And yet when typing I rarely feel as though “I” have anything much to do with the words that end up on the screen. I might get a lot of them on there very quickly, but they don’t mean anything to me, and they always need a hell of a lot of editing to make sense or to be remotely publishable.

Most of all, it’s very hard for me to figure out what I’m trying to say if I try to figure it on the keyboard.

There’s a big step-up when I write long-hand. Now I feel much more as though “I” am writing. The words end up on the page more slowly – a lot more slowly – than when I type, but the experience is so much more pleasurable, and when I read my work back it means something to me.

What I am trying to say presents itself to me much earlier than when I type, and so I don’t waste as many words. And whilst continual editing and rewriting would keep making what I came up with stronger and stronger, it doesn’t need it so desperately.

But boy, this morning made me wonder why I ever stopped writing in block capitals. I felt like I was one with the page. Now, that’s always what I’m chasing when I write, like an addict who can’t get enough, but I never actually get there. Today there was this sense as I printed and printed that what I was saying was true. And my mind was quiet, save for the writerly part of it telling me what to put next. It was a real joy.

What all this made me reflect upon was how the longest way round probably is in fact the shortest way home. The slower I go, the quicker I seem to get what I actually want. The faster I go, the longer it seems to take, if it gets done at all. And the more I’ve thought about it since this morning, the more I keep finding that it applies to just about everything I try my hand at.

Everybody is different – what works for me might not work for you – but have a think. Are you trying to blast through everything you do because it seems wasteful or extravagant not to, or to value something other than speed, like joy? How is it working out for you?

Remember: if it doesn’t actually get you home, then the shortest way round is no way at all. Find the way that works… for you.

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