Thursday, November 17, 2011

Friday Fives: The Instruments of Words

I had to think about this question in depth a few months ago when I read Roland Barthes interview "An Almost Obsessive Relation to Writing Instruments." My critical theory professor adores Barthes and we studied this essay for weeks trying to find all of the juicy hidden meanings behind everything. The part that stuck with me the most, and that applies to this Friday Fives prompt, is the fact that Barthes was very particular about his pens and his writing environment.

In fact, he was extremely set in his ways. He's a structuralist in every sense of the word and openly admits it in the essay. "To be able to function, I need to be able structurally to reproduce my usual work space," he states near the beginning of the piece, but "It isn't the walls but the structures that count."

In addition, he would not write unless it was with a fountain pen--the kind with nibs--and he had a compulsion that drove him to buy fountain pens whenever he saw them. As a result, he had pens from all over the world and was always buying more. He didn't use all of them, but he simply had them for the reason of having them.

Sort of like me at the bookstore.

This post requires me to go at the process of writing from an angle that I'm not used to traveling. Without the computer, pen, or pencil, what else is there to the writing enterprise? What could I possibly need in order to write?

Here is where Barthes comes into the equation once again, because he does manage to provide some interesting insight into the writing process. All writers have certain "quirks" when it comes to how, where, and when they will write. We may not acknowledge those things as existing, or maybe we do but take them for granted. For Barthes part, he knows exactly what he needs and what must be in place in order for him to write, and he's very specific about his writing areas and practices.

As for me, I must:

1. Be cross-legged and wearing comfortable pants.
2. Be alone.
3. Have something to drink.
5. Hear music, but only if I'm in the mood for it. It can't be loud, and the type depends on how I'm feeling or what I'm writing.

That's about it. Of course, there are always instances where I can't have all of those things or I might not be able to play music, sit cross-legged, or be alone (like during a test), but those times don't happen very often.

The reason I put so much emphasis on the no FOOD is because food, while yummy and life-sustaining, really distracts me more than anything else. I can write with the TV on and if my neighbors are playing the same thumping song over and over again, but if you put a bag of chips within reaching distance of me while I'm trying to write, I will eat instead of writing. That's just the way the cookie crumbles. Cookies... *wants*

It's for this--and other reasons, my ADD notwithstanding--that I take breaks while writing. They're short breaks, but breaks all the same. Sitting on your feet can make them fall asleep or so I've discovered. But standing up and eating every 30 minutes is my built-in system to prevent distraction and numb appendages.

What five things do you need in order to write? Fluffy pillow? Fruit smoothie? Full moon? Let me know in a comment below or go on over to Paper Hangover to join in the linktastic fun! Also, have a great weekend!

(So sorry for dragging on and on about Barthes. I'm studying for my final in that class and the stuff just won't leave me be.)


  1. I definitely sit cross-legged, or legs curled up on my chair while I write. This is becoming a problem because my knees have really been aching lately (due to all the writing and complete lack of exercise). I doubt I'll be changing this habit anytime soon, though :-)

  2. Comfy pants are a must. I also don't eat while I write.

  3. So interesting about Barthes! Thanks for sharing. :)

    Comfy pants. Good one. Maybe I should add that...

  4. I usually munch while I write and it's a habit I'm trying to break! But I always have to have music playing, whatever fits my mood at the time.

  5. I completely understand Barthes' compulsion to buy pen nibs. It's the same one I have to buy art supplies. (They're 'shiny'!)

    This is a really fun post. I'll have to add that I curl up in chairs because it's comfortable, but also because I'm short and most chairs don't fit my body. I also can't have social distractions - like people walking around me or trying to talk to me (this goes for ims and chat windows too). If people are socializing somewhere in my vicinity, I'll feel compelled to go join them. No writing gets done then.

  6. This cracks me up, because I'm so similar! I always change into yoga pants before writing, I steer clear of the snacks, and I like to be completely alone and in silence. Whatever it takes, right? :)


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