Saturday, November 6, 2010

Writing by hand

I know I'm not alone in the writing community in writing my drafts by hand. When I'm sitting at the computer, watching a blinking cursor, my writing feels stilted, inanimate, much like the computer itself. But when I put pen to paper, magical things happen. I can feel my character join my body, speak in her voice. A story unfolds on the paper in front of me, pen stroke by pen stroke.

This might surprise people who know me. I'm good with technology, I get technology, I use technology. I use it in my writing, too (I've posted about my use of Scrivener and mind map software). I type each chapter into my computer on the same day or the day after I finish it, along with all of my scribbled notes and thoughts in the margins. It gives me the opportunity to do a brief revision and rethink of what I wrote, as well as providing a readable, search-able record of my work.

But once I return to the writing, I have to switch back to my notebook. Simple rewriting and editing I can do on the computer, but anything more complex, I need to write by hand, even if it's just to write down a new phrase, insert a paragraph, or restructure a scene.

I read an article recently (via Twitter!) that seems to support this perspective. Gewndolyn Bounds, for the Wall Street Journal, explains that research shows writing by hands triggers numerous brain functions that pushing a key on a keyboard does not. The articles gets into the debate about whether it's worth teaching today's children to write by hand. It's a complex debate, and one I feel I can't comment on, having not read much of the research or grown up with technology from infancy. But for me, I imagine I will always be one of those dinosaurs writing by hand.

What about you? Do you find the same benefits from writing by hand?

19 comments:

  1. Absolutely. I'm pre-digital—way, pre-digital—but I'm comfortable with both. And I think both have their uses. I do begin projects by hand. When a character and/or an idea bubble up I jot down everything that comes to the surface. I hadn't thought about it, but I agree that writing by hand feels more like the character is right there with me and stroking the words. I do find, though, that I get to the computer sooner than I used to. Once a story gels I switch to keyboarding.

    ReplyDelete
  2. hummm....I think I am the opposite- to me pen in hand and paper usually lead to doodling- actually it is the way my brain says "right- drawing side" wake up! I use paper so much in my art- I think for me the keyboard tells me it is time to write- and I change my mind, backtrack, rewrite, misspell- if I did it on paper it would be a mess- I do jaut down ideas, when I am out and about- but that is on the back of reciepts, my checkbook or in my drawing pad. I do think of a lot of ideas, while I my hands are working on art though?

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's interesting, Andrea, that you're like me at the beginning, but once you have a sense of your story you can switch. It makes sense and would certainly save me a lot of time if I could work like that!

    Oh, that's so fascinating, Julia, that you have to accommodate both types of work in your head, so you have different movements for each. Do you tend to draw the stuff you are also writing? Or do you work on different projects at the same time?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just thought I'd drop by and see how your writing is going all these months after UV launch

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, Jude! Thanks for stopping by! "Slowly," I think, is the best answer about how my writing is going. =)

    I finished my MA programme in September and am waiting to get my manuscript back so I can see what my tutors thought and maybe (finally!) start sending something worthwhile out to agents.

    I hope your writing is going well. We need more reasons to email each other and to celebrate.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is really interesting! I find I need to do all my planning and plotting by hand as I like having lots of arrows and curves and visual representations of how narratives build and develop and crescendo. But when it actually comes down to the words, handwriting is too slow and my hand cramps up too fast. As for children, though, I agree. Writing by hand is a valuable skill in itself and I'd be very sorry to see pens give way entirely to keyboards!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I work on the two book ends of Children's publishing- writing a YA and working on illustrating and writing picturebooks-

    ReplyDelete
  8. I used to write a quarter or half a manuscript by hand just to get the juices flowing so that I would finally begin a draft. Then after that I'd take it away on the computer.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anna: Thanks! Yes, I'm such a visual person, too, using all my margins, and crossing things off, and drawing arrows. I dream of the day a tablet could do that type of handwriting recognition! Wouldn't that be fab?

    Handwriting IS slow, but I think I've gotten used to it. I've got the tell tale dent in my middle finger to prove it, too. =)

    Julia: Wow. So do you ever illustrate your YA, just to help you think through things? I draw little sketches occasionally, and some maps and building plans, but I just don't have the talent to actually draw things the way they look in my head.

    Medeia: Interesting how almost all of us need to start with paper. Must be something to it! Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the link to the article, I'm going to check it out for sure.

    I'm a software geek professional so I work with technology all day long and I typed EXTREMELY fast. But I have gone back to longhand writing with great results -- it allows my brain to slow down. And also unlike when typing, I tend to backspace and delete words. With longhand writing, I can see what was crossed out and sometimes find the crossed out word is the better choice.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I do the vast majority of my writing on my MacBook via Scrivener, but I still LOVE writing by hand. If I ever get stuck, a notebook and pen often un-sticks me, and if I'm writing a short story, I like to sit down and write the whole thing out by hand. There's just something really wonderful about tangible pen on tangible paper that gets the creative juices flowing!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Forgot to add, my brainstorming ALWAYS starts with pen and paper.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think we must work in similar ways, Karen! I find myself mulling over the language, and slowing down just a bit, when I write by hand, too. And somehow it all feels more reflective than when using the computer. How interesting that even an IT person like you has switched back to paper!

    Oh, Joanna, that sounds like an incredible way to write a short story. Just as it's an incredible way to read a story: all in one sitting! I think you're absolutely right, though. Something about fiddling with a pen and paper really does link one into creativity much more easily.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think it would be a loss if we stopped teaching kids how to write by hand, though the way technology is headed, I guess it wouldn't be that surprising. When I'm on the train, I often use that time to write in my notebook; it's amazing how creative I feel during those snippets of time.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I agree, Anna, I can't imagine a world without handwriting. But as you say, I think a lot of people are asking, with the way technology is heading, is there a need for handwriting? But it seems such a strange, backwards thing, for a culture to lose their ability to write by hand. But I also know from the teaching perspective that it's time consuming to teach. And what about cursive? Should that be taught as well?

    Something about trains is really comforting, I find. I've done a lot of writing in trains, too. Something about feeling like I've got no where else I need to be, and nothing else I have to do.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I definitely still write by hand at times. Like Andrea, I often start a project that way. I also sit down with a notebook and pencil if I am stuck and don't know where I am going. I write questions to myself about the story, and usually the answers pop into my head while I am writing the question. So I write the answer, and another question, and answer, and so on, and the juices get flowing again. Once my brain is moving at typing speed again, I usually switch to my alphasmart.

    I always try to have a notebook with me so if an idea pops into my head I can jot it down. I can't get much actual writing done on the train though - usually there are too many conversations going on around me. My husband told me to upgrade to first class next time - I'm going to try that and see if works. If so, that's another "found" two hours for me, every month or so.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Interesting how so many of us have similar processes! Thanks so much for sharing. By the way, LOVE the name fictionforge!

    In the UK, there are specific train cars that are quiet cars. They're heaven for writing! First class sounds pretty nice too, especially when it gets you two more hours a month. It really is about finding those few extra bits to get the writing in, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Not sure how I missed this post the first time around, but am glad you left the link! :)

    I love pen and paper, and use it to sketch out ideas, outline, and for visual outlines (awful stick drawings!), but I've never done well with writing out my words for a book.

    Maybe I should consider it though. . .

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks for stopping by, Bridgette! Such an interesting topic. It was funny to stumble by your post all these months later and to find I still have such strong feelings about it!

    I don't know, though, I think we each find the methods that work best for us. If writing longhand were your method, you would have spontaneously started drafting scenes that way ages ago. Right? Do what works for you!

    But how interesting that you do still use longhand to sketch out ideas. The research does show that handwriting uses a different part of our brains.

    ReplyDelete