It’s safe to assume that if Thomas Jefferson had a laptop, we’d never have seen the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. If Charles Dickens had a novel-writing program like Scrivener, we’d likely have more Dickens books to read and, possibly, the actual ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. If Erle Stanley Gardner had any of the speech-recognition software available to him, he’d likely have dictated his Perry Mason novels directly into his computer rather than his dictaphone. And I don’t want to even consider how many more Doc Savage novels Lester Dent could have written if he had a Mac considering he wrote a novel a month for years with only a typewriter.
Technology and the advent of the personal computer and word processing programs have flat-out made it easier to write. We have software programs that put our words in the exact, proper format. We have devices that enable us to enter words in a variety of ways not just the keyboard. Heck, we have authors in Japan who write their cellphone novels...on cellphones.
With all of this technology, then, why do so many of us writers cherish writing longhand? This month, I’m lugging my PowerBook everywhere I go so that I’ll have it with me and I can write whenever the mood--or time--strikes. It’s a fun habit, I’ll admit, and I’m doing it because I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month. It’s the fastest way to get words down.
Honestly, however, if the self-imposed word count deadline was not staring me in the face, I’d write many of my pieces of fiction in longhand first and transfer to a software program later. I’ve done it in the past and I enjoy that first “edit” as I type in the words I wrote. The completed, transcribed material is tighter and better once I give it that first edit.
Back to the question at hand: why do folks enjoy writing longhand? I enjoy the simplicity, the minimal aspect of writing with pen and paper. The slower speed allows me to ponder the next word for a few more milliseconds than I get to when typing. I often longhand write the better word rather than the first word that enters my brain. As I’m blazing away at NaNoWriMo, I’m not editing but I am making mental notes, knowing I’ll go back and fix up sentences later. With slower, handwriting, I’d likely pick the better word from the get-go.
I love the scratch, scratch of pen nib on paper. There’s a quote from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: “Scratching is what you do when you can’t wait for the thunderbolt to hit you.” She’s referring to improvisation in being creative. The funny thing is for us writers, we can actually scratch.
There’s an ironic answer to my question: writer’s choose to write longhand in order to get us in the mind of our writing forebears. We like to think our ink-stained fingers get us closer to Dickens or Poe or Doyle. The irony is, had they been able to use our technology, Mr. Dickens, Poe, or Doyle would have chucked their ink stands and pens without thinking twice.
How do you like to write? If you write longhand, why?