Timmy B posted earlier today to mention why we haven’t seen much on his blog as of yet: he’s finding it difficult to get any writing done when staring at the computer. He’s had an easier time of late scribbling out his ideas longhand rather than braindumping into a word-processing program.
(Some of what I’m about to say I posted in my reply to his post, but I wanted to repeat and expand it a little bit here.)
As computers have become more and more common to American households over the last fifteen to twenty years, more and more people have become conditioned to using word-processing programs for their everyday writing needs. Using Microsoft Word or what-have-you just seems so much better, doesn’t it, than actually having to find a pen and then something to write on and then actually writing out every single one of those words, which just takes so long and makes your wrist all tired–oh, and then sometimes the pen will leak or your hand will smear the ink and you end up with such a mess and it’s really just not even worth it.
But you know–there’s something to be said for slowing down a little very now and then.
Stephen King‘s written a bunch of his stuff longhand, most recently the novel Dreamcatcher. Neal Stephenson wrote the entirety of his recent Baroque Cycle in longhand–three massive books that total almost three-thousand densely-packed pages in hardcover.
Brian and I saw Stephenson speak at the Harvard Bookstore about a year-and-a-half ago, and he talked about the whole “writing longhand” thing. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s been awhile) that writing on the computer was almost too fast–having no delay between brain, fingers and word-processing program tended to produce writing he wasn’t happy with, largely because there wasn’t as much consideration going into what he was writing. It was too immediate and completely un-edited. Writing longhand, however, slowed him down and allowed him to “pre-edit” his words:
“It’s like when you’re writing, there’s a kind of buffer in your head where the next sentence sits while you’re outputting the last one.”
Last night Terry was on the main computer and the laptop was plugged in downstairs while I was upstairs, but I still was in the mood to write. So I grabbed my journal (which has proven a godsend for me; more on that topic some other time) and started scratching out the beginnings of a short story longhand. (You’ll be seeing the results of those scribblings a little bit later.)
And what Stephenson said was completely true for me: the act of committing pen to paper rather than fingers to keys gave me more time to really think about what it was I was trying to do. Would I likely have gotten to the same place using either medium? I think so, yeah–but I think the first draft was better for having first been birthed on paper. I also didn’t feel the same pressure I frequently feel when staring at a blank Word document or text file (I’m such a geek I use Vi for almost all of my writing–c’mon, I’m a programmer–but that in of itself will be another post later). Knowing that I was just writing in my journal gave me some freedom and made me relax a little bit more, and sho ’nuff I got what I think was a higher-quality result because of it.
Bottom line: do what feels right for you. Some people simply do not have the patience to write long works out longhand. Some people’s handwriting is so close to illegible that deciphering it later might make the whole process even more frustrating. But if you feel like you need to go all Luddite with your writing, then do it if it works for you. Like Neal Stephenson says: “Paper is a really good technology.”