Writing By Hand
Today’s post is inspired by this article, about the benefits of writing by hand.
I have never stopped writing by hand, though I don’t do it consistently. I went to an academic high school, where there wasn’t a “secretarial” stream, and nobody learned typing. I do recall one far-seeing teacher who insisted that there would come a time in the not-too-distant future when we would all need to type, and he set up a voluntary typing class. Of course I didn’t want to lose any of my rare spare time at school, so I never attended it. Silly me!
As a result I’m a two or three finger typist — fast but not particularly accurate. And often I do all my writing on the computer. But whenever I’m a little bit stuck, or can’t decide how to approach a scene, or just need to feel out where I’m going in a book or have an idea not related to what I’m actually working on. I pull out a trusty notebook and write by hand.
In fact, I started my career as a writer when I was backpacking, and found my head spinning with stories. So I bought a notebook and started writing them down. I’d filled two whole notebooks by the time I got home. There were snatches of stories, story ideas, whole scenes, dialogue exchanges and a good chunk of a young adult novel.
None of those ever saw the light of day, but the writing had inspired me. And the notebooks were there to glance through and be reinspired. Later I bought my first computer, and started seriously trying to write. I found though, that putting the first draft of a scene onto a computer was slow and unsatisfactory — my typing contained lots of mistakes and they distracted me and got in the way of “the flow.”
There has been a lot of scientific investigation into what happens in the brain when you’re writing by hand or using a keyboard, and the results seem clear that the best, most creative results come from handwriting. The article I linked to above explains it. Whether or not that’s the case for people who’ve grown up using keyboards, I’m not so sure. But it absolutely works for me.
So I learned to write a scene by hand and then type it up. In the typing up process I also edited it. When writing a dialogue exchange, for instance, my pen would fly so quickly I would only scribble down the words that the characters actually said, and nothing about where they were, what they were doing or thinking or even who said what. So when I would go to type that scene up, I’d put in all that extra necessary stuff in, which is a kind of editing process.
I always have a notebook on the go, and have a new one ready for when I finish one. I use small sticky notes to mark where notes I keep notes for my current wip (work in progress). And I have kept all my notebooks, even the ones from that long ago backpacking trip. Just yesterday I pulled out an old notebook where I remembered I’d jotted down some ideas and scene stubs for a novella I started some years ago. That’s it at the top of the page. I remembered writing some scenes, but they weren’t in the computer file, so I knew they’d be in a notebook. And they were.