A few months ago, another writer’s loop had an extended discussion about the joys of writing longhand. One writer announced that she wrote all her preliminary drafts with pad and pen, and she was convinced that it freed up her writing imagination. Others chimed in. Yes, indeedy—buy yourself a good felt-tip pen, or even a good ballpoint. Grab a legal pad, curl up in a comfy chair, and let ’er rip. Freed from the technological bad karma of electronic control, you’ll have that novel completed in no time at all.
To this I must respectfully reply, “Bullpucky.” I love my computer, and there’s no way in hell I’m going back to a pen, no matter how extra special that pen may be.
Part of this determination stems from the fact that I remember what writing was like before PC’s were widely available (yes, kiddies, I really am that old). I remember taking notes on three-by-five cards in the library, then writing out drafts in longhand, then copying those drafts on your electric typewriter (which had a correcting ribbon if you were lucky). Then typing out another draft after you’d marked up the first (and let me tell you, typewriters were nowhere near as easy on the hands as a computer keyboard).
And writer’s cramp. Oh yes, my dears, I remember writer’s cramp. I tried every shape of pen I could find looking for one that wouldn’t make my hand feel like a claw after a couple of hours of writing.
When the price of PC’s finally dipped to something we could afford, I rushed right out and grabbed one (a Mac—and I’ve stayed true every since). It didn’t have much memory, no hard disk, and you had to save everything on three-and-a-half inch disks, but oh, what a difference it made! No more Whiteout, no more writer’s cramp, no more hours spent with only a few pages to show for it. Having done books on both typewriters and computers, I’m here to tell you there’s no going back.
Having said all of this, however, I have to admit something else. I find it a lot easier to revise in longhand than on the computer. Particularly when parts of the story need to be reorganized, it’s just easier for me to see how to do it when I can lay the pages out and scribble the inserts (although if they’re longer than a paragraph or so, I may end up doing them on the computer again). Whenever I revise a draft, I print the whole thing out, then curl up on the couch with a stack of pages beside me, adding, deleting, and moving things around with a red pen.
Now, I’m not entirely happy about doing it this way. I wince at the amount of paper it takes (I print on both sides of the page, but still) and the number of printer cartridges I buy each year (they’re recycled, but still). On the other hand, I still do a more thorough job of revising using this method than I did when revisions meant retyping the whole freakin’ thing all over again.
So I gotta say, if other writers find the romance of longhand gets them going, more power to them. But I’m guessing few of them have ever had to write without a computer at all. To me this is sort of like people who extol the thrill of riding bikes everywhere because they’ve never really lived without a car. I’ll go on drafting everything on my trusty Mac, unromantic though it may be. You will force me back to a pen only if you can pry my keyboard from my bleeding fingers.
So what about you? Pens, pencils, or wireless keys?