For some reason lately, my brain wants to compose longhand. Once upon a time, I composed everything in longhand. I would get up before 5 and write the next scene of my novel; usually on unlined paper, scrap printing paper I brought home from work, that sort of thing. That night, after work and dinner and rudimentary life, I'd type up what I had written.

I can't actually remember my reasoning at the time. I do remember being quite cold in the morning, wrapping myself in a blanket, poring over the desk with its solitary lamp. But I don't remember why I wasn't using the computer; perhaps it was normal for me to compose longhand. I remember writing most of my university reports, including my theses, by hand. I found it easier to think of the writing, to structure the prose; the computer was the polishing and publishing and finishing part.

Then — and this was definitely during the writing of the first novel — I became frustrated with the slowness of it all. Writing it up and then typing it up? Took too long. Writing longhand itself? Took too long, my thoughts were racing ahead and my pen couldn't keep up. But, being a touch-typist, my keyboard could. So I started composing straight on the screen, and I've been comfortable with that process for a good long while now.

Until now. Apparently I'm feeling the need to write slowly again. I wonder if perhaps I'm poring over my words too much, wanting to write slowly; but at the same time my first drafts have much better sentence-level work than before. You win some, you lose some. At the same time, I find myself desperately wanting to do my novel revisions on-screen… but that's just because I want them to go faster, faster, faster (will they never be finished?).

17 thoughts on “handwriting

  1. See, I think that's the thing — having to be more deliberate, considering each word more. For me, it's a matter of my handwriting sucking — I have to write carefully so I can read it later. And I find the deliberation that goes into the whole process when I write by hand opens up parts of my brain that go to sleep with faster methods. I tend to be like that, really — I have to deliberately slow down, because my normal mode is fast and, frankly, more than a tad unconscious.

    I suspect, too, that there's a ritual involved, given that longhand isn't the default anymore. For me, especially — I make it a ritual, really, with a nice journal, the ol' fountain pen, the sacrifice of the virgin on the New Moon. And I find that very important for me — it's like entering a special place. Perhaps, in part, because I don't really have one right now — my apartment is too small to admit of something like a Writing Room. So I create it in my head.

  2. Yeah, I've been considering this along similar lines. Letting myself write slowly means I'm allowed to be conscious of what I'm writing, but also of what I'm doing, what tools I'm trying to use, what voice I'm trying to shoot for, that sort of thing. And I hear you on the ritual thing โ€” maybe I've been avoiding the computer because when it gets fired up all these little alerts pop up: must do this; must get package a to point b by time c; must call this person; that person has updated their blog; your email account is bursting with new messages… So I guess the ritual with the computer has become to procrastinate and surf the net first.

  3. Yeah. That's one problem with computers being multi-purpose tools. Because a lot of the time I think creative work needs…silence. Of a kind, at least. And the internets is always there, offering such a huge, huge cat to wax…when I lost my connection last week for a few days, it was almost a blessed thing. I had to stop listening to all the voices, or rather have very set times that I listened to them. So I could listen to the other voices (not the ones that tell me to do things, terrible things — I'm Much Better Now).

    Of course, then the hurricane came, and I got dial-up at least, and I started listening to all the voices again. Must learn to moderate that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Because a lot of the time I think creative work needsโ€ฆsilence. Of a kind, at least.

    Absolutely. Which is one reason I like to write to music, because it creates an atmosphere but also because it can drown out the world and all its yammering. I really should start limiting my access to the net to certain times. I'd probably gain back hours and hours…

  5. I don't know how to write anymore. I used to do all my first jumps into a story in longhand; the enforced speed made me concentrate on what it was I was actually writing, and gave me time to think about where I was then going.

    Clarion kind of broke that in me.

    I think I want to type…but after doing data entry for 8 hours, I DO NOT WANT TO TYPE.

  6. I have that struggle too; part of me wants to sit back and write longhand, and I always come up with useful ideas when I do, but the revisions are soooo much faster at the computer. Of course, when I go through a big draft at the computer, I usually feel I wasn't thorough or didn't see the big picture while I worked.

  7. Holly — I always have that same feeling. While I do a lot of revision work on the computer, probably most of it in fact, I always find myself having to print out at various points and sit down with my beloved fountain pen and mark the sucker up, and then type in the changes later. Of course, then I feel vaguely guilty about all the trees I'm killing. But I've found that some of my most productive revision work is done at a coffee shop with a print out and the pen. (white noise of people around you, a good mocha, a good pen…heaven ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Tess โ€” I completely sympathise with that. A day of data entry does ruin you for the computer. (Or normal people. I find nothing ruins me for the computer itself, it just ruins me for writing.)

    Holly/Greg โ€” revisions on paper always feel much more thorough for me. And I use up so much of the paper with corrections and notes to myself it doesn't feel like a horrendous waste. For this novel, I'm trying out Holly Lisle's one pass revision method. So far I like it, but I'm making such sweeping changes that this pass has settled into structural changes and I'm going to need to concentrate on the prose later. And for a structural revision, I am itching to do it at the computer, you know?

  9. damselfly —

    Revisions on paper often just seem more *real* to me. But structural revivision** — I find that I like, sometimes, to visually sketch that out for myself (complete with Big Bubbles, lots of arrows, colors, little faces, and asides bursting forth here and there so that it ends up looking like Escher doing a flowchart after dropping some really high grade acid) — but then have a very definite point where I freak out and need the computer. It's those big level changes where computers can really shine as a tool, simply because the level of change can be such that simple tools of the computer, like cut and paste, can my sanity.

    (** frankly, that's a typo I'm letting stand. "Now in Revivision!")

  10. Flowcharts! I love flowcharting. Maybe it's the engineering training, I don't know, but for "outlining" or plotting I work so much better if I can draw convoluted interconnections. Only flowcharting by hand can satisfy that urge, I admit.

    I've been looking for a computer program that will let me flowchart the way I want to. There's a program (called Inspiration, maybe?) which looks like it's what I want, but it costs. And frankly, paying for luxury software is a low priority at the moment. The closest I've found in freeware equivalent is a little java program called FreeMind, which is good but not quite what I'm looking for. Although in looking up the link I discovered the links to alternatives on the main page has grown, so I might check them out now… (who's cat-waxing?)

  11. Inspiration is okay, I guess. In the Mac world, there's a great one called OmniGraffle, as I recall. But the problem with computer flowchart programs — you can't do those big, sweeping, oh so satisfying arrows that wind around the piece of paper that end with text that's heavily overwritten and underlined about 20 times, with stars around it, a smiley face, and dancing bunnies.

    Let's face it — flowcharting by hand is very much a physical experience :-).

    (seriously, I think that the problem with using a computer program here is that for me, at least, flowcharting is often one of those Eureka moments — seeing the relations, ideas fall together and BAM! And you just can't find the different tools in a flowchart program fast enough for that…)

  12. yeah, the physicality is a definite advantage. and the portability, which most boutique programs can't really offer. (I doubt you'd find a whiz-bang flowcharting program small enough to run off a USB stick, for example.) But my dancing bunnies always look rather malformed, like they've all been infested with bott-flies… It's not pretty. And even I can't understand it afterwards.

    and i hear you on the eureka moment. it's often not reproducible in an electronic format. i still hope and dream, though… even if it is cutting off my nose to spite my face… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. But Deb, what about when you revise something on-screen, then revise it better, then decide that the first revision was actually better? Unless you're actually silly about saving separate versions of everything, you can lose work so easily. *chews fingernails like a cartoon character eating corn on the cob*

    I'm showing my age here, but I need to have all versions in hard copy, with marks indicating every change that was made.

  14. And I always write first drafts in longhand. Oh, and some shorthand, for in-betweensy words so that I can read it back easily, but by hand.

    I find my mind/pen coordination is better than my mind/keyboard coordination. Also, if I just used keyboards, my lurking RSI would jump into front centre stage and start taking over the show.

  15. I can imagine you getting nervous about version history, Margo! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Actually, once upon a time I was exactly the same, and every version had to be in hard-copy. I have a filing cabinet full of old drafts. But somewhere along the line I discovered that I'm rather less stressed about keeping a hardcopy of changes. Maybe because I go through so many drafts! I do admit to keeping electronic versions of everything, though.

    As for typing, I do find it harder on the wrists, particularly if I'm using the mouse a lot. And I'm so fast at it, compared to handwriting, that my electronic-first versions are peppered with lots of notes to myself where I couldn't find the right word in time

  16. I'm quite happy to turf the old drafts once I've got to the final one, but I MUST HAVE THEM while I'm getting there! With this novel I'm trying to keep all the drafts, so that I can take them to school workshops and show the whole lot from go to whoa. It'll have to be a workshop that I don't fly to, though…

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