In Praise of Writing Things Down

I have seen the picture from both sides of the fence and for almost all my life, the act of writing things down has surpassed anything else.

I come from a very poor region of South Africa where the illiteracy rate is still extremely high. So each and every day I value the ability to read and write. It’s a fantastic gift that most literate people take for granted.

I learned to read at 4 and when I began with my endless questions, my father gave me a dictionary and an encyclopaedia and taught me to use them. From then on, whenever I asked something he would say ‘look it up!’. when I was about six I began writing my first stories. At 8 I received my first career book which was entitled Janet Carr, journalist. From then on all I wanted to do was be a writer.

I went to Rhodes University in South Africa. A liberal English speaking university, it offered the only Bachelor of Journalism degree in South Africa. During the height of apartheid there was no freedom of speech so the security police had a field day with the Journalism school – arrests, harassment, torture, solitary confinement, detention without trial. Not to mention riots and rubber bullets. One of my fellow students who was in detention suffered badly from asthma and the prison refused to give him medical help. He almost died an awful death and that haunted me. After most of the lecturers and my class ended up in jail (some of them for many years) and I knew it would only be a matter of time before it happened to me, I switched to English Literature and Sociology instead. Still very political but with no fear of detention and death.

About five years after this I retrained in Computer Science and worked as a Novell Network Manager and PC support consultant (hardware and software) at IT department of the same university. Rhodes University brought the internet to Africa so we used to manage the first bulletin boards and email systems in Africa. What a fantastic time to be in the computer and internet world! Arpanet becoming the internet. Windows appeared as did Netscape, Cello, Mosaic and Pegasus Mail! The World Wide Web! Voila – a whole new world!

At this time one of my former lecturers (back from quite a few years in jail and political exile in London) returned to take over the Journalism and Media Studies department and asked me to move over. I taught typing, CARR (Computer Aided Research and Reporting) desktop publishing and HTML to thousands of students over ten years. Put the first newspaper in Africa online. Was named one of 50 women to know in New Media. Moved to Stockholm.

Through this all though I continued writing. Writing in my journal, writing stories longhand, keeping a paper calendar. I did use Casio, Psion, Palm Pilot and Palm Life Drive electronic planners but ultimately I have always loved paper. Any old paper, any old pen. I can feel my thoughts and feelings pouring out to the paper through my pen. It relaxes me. I rarely use shorthand now but I do if my thoughts come faster than my pen. But pen, paper and planners rule.

I was orphaned at an early age and I had absolutely no one to talk to. My journal was my saviour. It listened to me, counselled me, calmed me, soothed me and listened to me. I used to use a page a day diary as my journal and keep a ring bound planner (usually a Filofax) for my work. Each year I would burn both on the 31st December and start anew on the first day of the new year. But about ten years ago I stopped keeping a journal and started using my Filofax as more combination work planner and commonplace book. I am an avid list-maker so my Filofax holds all these. It holds articles, scribbles, notes, lists, appointments, codes, passwords. No tapping, no waiting for apps to load. No hanging, no blue screen, no internet connection or Wi-Fi necessary. And with Filofax you can give your planner a spring clean anytime you want – toss what you don’t need, keep what you do, archive old pages and it just keeps going, evolving and developing with you 🙂

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

One thought

  1. This is beautiful! I’m a bit late to the writing party; I have a fine motor control impairment which has always made writing and typing a bit of an ordeal for me. The one bit of writing I did consistently was letter writing; I have always been a great letter writer but let it lapse over the last decade as email took over. But when I needed to get control over stuff at work I found paper to be the most logical choice for me. And when I started writing I found myself writing more and more, both on paper and in type on a computer. I took up letters again and mail out several a week. I have started writing essays, none of which have yet been published on any blog but are there for me to read and tool with. I take prodigious notes now, make dozens of lists, and feel like writing has given me great control over my life and helped me manage my ADD by allowing me to record my thoughts rather than need to act on them at the moment. It really is a great gift, not to be taken for granted.

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