Technology rocks. My productivity has gone up a hundred fold since I started using smartphones. There a couple of computers hooked up through a few different routers around my house, and I’m rarely far from a screen. A Luddite, I’m not. But I still write many things out longhand.
The reasoning behind my antiquated need to put pen to paper is quite simple: It’s slow. Like most people in my generation (on the cusp between Generation Y and Millennial), I type much faster than I write. It’s not hard to tippity-tap an article like this in fifteen to twenty minutes, so long as the idea is crystallized in my mind. In the case of longer pieces, however, taking one’s time is a huge advantage. It lets ideas float to the top, and it lets the writer fully inhabit the words he or she is writing. Besides, there’s a certain sensual joy to writing with pen on paper that future generations are likely going to miss out on.
Despite really enjoying writing longhand, I must admit that I reserve it for special occasions. Mostly, I make use of it when writing first drafts of fiction, and I’d highly recommend the practice to any author out there who is just getting started. Simply put, it forces the writer to sit down, set aside all other distraction – I’m looking at you, Internet – and connect with the act of writing. Writing longhand, being much slower and harder to delete, also makes the writer contemplate every word just a little longer. The chances of finding just the right word or turn of phrase seem much higher with just a little thought.
Also incredibly important, writing a story longhand is a commitment. That story exists now, for better or worse, and it’s not as easy to remove from existence as clicking the delete key. It’s also much harder to change part-way through. I’ve known many incredibly talented authors with classic artistic insecurity. They keep going back to rewrite, revise, or re-something their stories. And it’s so easy in the word processor. Scroll up. Clickety-click-click. There you have it. Going back is death. No novel was ever finished by endlessly going back. Novels are finished by going forward. Or in rare cases sideways.
Then there’s the issue of the second draft. Should the author’s story be worth a second draft – and some aren’t – then it’s already built into the process. If its clearly just a case of literary masturbation, that’s fine. It clears the way for the good stuff to come out. But hard copies are lost, destroyed, and otherwise mismanaged. They have to be put down in the aether at some point. The act of typing them out, however, acts as the second draft. It’s at this point that the plot holes open up, and the writer can close them before being swallowed whole. Spelling mistakes are caught. Sloppy thinking is parsed. Unnecessary words are excised. And a second draft is ready.
So I’m writing my current novella in a notebook, with a cheap pen that hurts my fingers. And it’s going great. How about you?