Daniel Kraus’s recent article about authors who write longhand really struck me. The authors describe how writing longhand slows them down and makes their writing tighter. They describe the tactile satisfaction they get from the task, how the work they produce is tangible. Their descriptions are compelling
When I write (fiction, poetry, or reports for my day job), I typically write on an electronic device, as I have since I was very young. My legal secretary mother used an electric typewriter since before I could remember, and I learned to type on the QWERTY keyboard in elementary school. My early-adopting father brought home an Apple II when I was eight years old. I went to college in 1987 with a portable Zenith computer with a tiny green screen. I wrote everything on computers way before the elegant interfaces of Mac and Windows.
And I still write stories and poetry on my computer. It lets me move text around quickly, or jot down several words to see what would work in a passage. Scrivener lets me structure longer works, rearranging the order of sections and making notes to myself. I use my smart phone’s touch screen when a poem or story idea strikes me away from a computer, and then I email it to myself for later.
But I realize I write differently at work. I write meeting and field notes in longhand by necessity, with a shorthand of arrows and stars. These are transcribed on the computer, when I can emphasize things based on my doodles and insert the margin notes. Part of me has reservations that real-time electronic note taking could interfere with the intimacy of talking with people. The conversation, and hurried shorthand note taking, captures the organic interaction of the conversation. Revisions can take place after, when things can be laid out with better structure.
This sounds an awful lot like what the authors said in the article.
Another realization: I edit my stories and poetry longhand. I have to see a piece compiled and printed to be able to truly take a knock at it. Then I write all over it with arrows and margin notes. I draw diagrams of timelines. I doodle hairstyles and facial expressions on character heads to describe them properly.
My biggest reason for not writing a story longhand? It’s too slow – my typing is faster than my handwriting. I can’t get the ideas down fast enough. But maybe that’s not what I should be striving for. Maybe writing longhand would slow down some of the self-editing that come with typing. Maybe the deliberate work of transcribing is a better time to work on structure and word choice. Very interesting ideas for me to ponder.
Do you write longhand or type your drafts, and does it change for different types of writing or revisions? I’d love to hear your comments.