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.
Fascinating inside …what a precious collection of handwritten notes
contributed to the books I so love ❤️
Thank you, Mem. I don’t know about my piles of notebooks being precious — they are, but only to me.
That is amazing! You have all those notebooks and you can remember having written a scene and find it!
Thanks, Priscilla — yes, writing something down helps fix it in my brain.
Like you my thoughts are better organized when I write things out. It is as though I can hear the words in my head. I used to write newspaper features. I would interview, take notes during the interview, write out from my notes and then I could submit on my computer. It sounds really involved, but the end result was always clean and sure and well done. In college, taking notes by hand made me remember the information much better. You have explained things beautifully.
Yes, Annette, that’s exactly how it works for me. I often will also list on the back of a business-sized envelope the things that need to be in a scene. It helps me clarify just how a scene should unfold.
Anne – I do type, but I’m not the touch typist my mother was. My first stories were scribbled on whatever paper I had to hand. One story was written on index cards at the ball park..I’ve worked out stories on graph paper. But actually, I wish I’d jotted down continually on the kind of notebooks that you used. I’m afraid some things have gotten lost along the way. I’m glad you’ve found your way back through your notebooks.
Binnie Syril, I think I started on bits of paper, but soon realized it was better to keep all the jottings in one place. I’ve also started to write an index of sorts listing the contents — I do it before I start a new notebook. I have so many now.