Is there really a difference?
When I attended a writing intensive a couple of years ago I learned that many of the talented published authors who were there as mentors still wrote their books in freehand. The multiple hand-written drafts it took to get from the original manuscript to the final published product could fill boxes.
I’d guess that most of the new writers in attendance had done just about all of our writing on a computer of some kind. I come from an in between age where I can recall typing out high school essays on an electric typewriter after doing my drafts in cursive. By university I had my first computer. Everything I’ve done since then has been typed onto a screen, edited there, with the original thoughts vanishing, and then printed to paper as an afterthought.
Well, not everything. As I look around I have piles of notebooks, all full of my rather illegible lefty handwriting. What on earth are they all doing here? What have I filled them all with? A lot of them are to-do lists of items with boxes either checked off or long forgotten. Some are leads lists and notes from calls with clients from past lives of work. Others are journals.
Journaling is something that I started doing late in life. I just dreaded it as a child. I didn’t know what to write! Today was a boring day. That was the typical lead-in, followed by something even less interesting. Maybe not, though. It probably was a bit therapeutic to write stuff out, even if it annoyed me to do so. I’m sure the teachers had their reasons for making us do it.
Today my hand-written journal serves two purposes.
- Expunging resentments. Anything that I find myself repeating in my mind, muttering to myself when I look in the mirror, or just plain getting concerned with when I have no business thinking I can change it goes in there. Sometimes it’s just a few sentences and that’s all it takes. Close the book, put it away, move along. There is something about seeing the words come out of my body that I don’t think I can get from typing it onto a screen or tapping it into my phone. There’s a disconnect. I need to hand write some things to get past them.
- Documenting dreams. When I can remember them, I find it fascinating how a dream that can be recalled in milliseconds can take pages to write out. Often, in the time it takes to actually put the chronology of a dream on paper, I can come to some interesting conclusions on what my subconscious may have been trying to process.
What about creative writing? Articles in Medium are done online. I put them together right here in the website’s built-in word processor. When I was active in my nutrition blog at EatingIsTheAnswer.com, it was the same. I typed right into Wordpress.
For fiction I’m a typer. I can’t get past the convenience of using word processing software and I haven’t even gotten into things like Grammarly. I understand that services like it are amazing to use. My typical process is to create my first draft of a piece by typing it. Then I print it out and mark it up on paper. I go back and make the changes on the computer, reprint, mark up, repeat, ad nauseum until there’s nothing left to fix. Then the piece is ready.
I’m very curious about writing fiction by hand. I wonder if I might connect with the piece more that way, the way that I do when I hand write my journal entries. It seems logical that I might. I have dabbled. When we go camping, my family agrees not to bring any technology. If I want to get my daily writing quota in, then I’ve got to do it in a notebook. I can’t say I have enough experience with it to really comment, though.
I once read that the great author Alistair MacLeod refused to use a machine to write because it felt to him like gremlins were doing the work. He needed to make notes in the margins, things like making sure that the parents were older than their children. I found that hilarious. It could really just be a matter of habit due to the times we started writing. Come to think of it, if I sit down to write a song, I do it on paper. That was how I did it when I was an angst-filled teenager. But when it comes time to get my adult angst out in the form of fiction, I just don’t see myself doing it with a pen. I want to open up the computer.
I’m curious to know other people’s perspectives on this. Have you gone back and forth between the pen and the keyboard? Do you do both? What are your reasons? Please share the benefits. I’m pretty open to changing my habits if one’s shared experience resonates with me the right way.