The trouble with being a writer – really being a writer, not just sitting around talking about being a writer – is that at some point you have to get all those images, characters and conversations out of your head. Okay, some people need to see a therapist, spend years in therapy and possibly take medication to get those things out of their head, but for writers we only need pen and paper, or a computer.

Now, this could be a huge dividing line between writers. Just as some writers swear by creating outlines before they ever put down Word One, other writers just start writing and let the words flow as they may. Step into any writers’ forum and you’ll see passionate arguments from either side. And I have a feeling whether you write out your first draft longhand or you type it directly into your computer is another one of those “issues” that writers (when trying to avoid the task of writing) love to debate about.

This week I’m curious to find out which side of the keyboard you’re on when drafting your work.

My Reason for Asking

I’ve always sworn by writing out things long hand, whether I’m writing an article, an essay or a book. There’s something very flow-y about putting pen to paper that I enjoy. I also like to write outside when the weather is nice and, while paper may be a bit bright in direct sunlight, it’s next to impossible to see a computer screen outdoors. And I’ve continually said I think better on paper. I can make notes in the margins, draw big circles around sections I want to move and arrows pointing to where to move them, and I can doodle when the procrastination bug bites.

So, yeah, I was on the pen and paper side of the writing fence.

Unfortunately there is a down side to writing longhand: You have to get those words from your paper into your computer. Since I can’t afford a magic transcriptionist who can read my scrawl, it was always up to me to type type type type (or dictate). Sure there was a little revision going on during my transcribing, but for the most part I was spending almost as long typing out my first draft as it took to write it.

Basically, I was doubling my time to do a first draft.

So when I threw “Write draft one of Book Three of the Osteria Chronicles” onto my to-do list, I re-evaluated my approach. After all, it’s February, not exactly the go-outside-and-write time of year (although we have had some marvelous weather in Portland this February), so I would be doing my writing inside. I also got a new super slim MacBook that would be easy to carry around to wherever in the house I decided to write (usually standing at the kitchen counter).

Still, my longhand heart didn’t want to give up my composition book and pile of pens. So, I started and finished chapter one. For my next session, when I would jump into chapter two, I decided to give the computer a try. After a little fumbling trying to figure out Apple’s Pages and getting used to the new keyboard, I was off like a rocket. In less than half an hour I was 1500 words into chapter two.

I stopped. I looked at my comp book. It had taken me a couple days to write chapter one. My hand had hurt after each writing session and I still had to get those nine handwritten pages into my computer. I ended up finishing chapter two on the computer. The words flowed just as easy as when I used pen and paper, I wasn’t going to have to transcribe everything, and rather than find the computer stifling my creativity, I felt like I was writing better (possibly due to the lack of hand cramps)..

So, the computer won and I’ll be typing out the rest of the novel…although I still have to transcribe those nine pages of chapter one.

It’s not the end of an era…

I also had an article to do this month. A short piece on native plants. I still wrote the draft for this out on pen and paper, then edited that draft before typing it out. But the work of revising and transcribing an 800-word article is not the same as the work involved with a novel that’s tens of thousands of words long.

So, for me longhand still has its time and place, but for novels I think it’s time to set my comp books aside except for doing my outlines (yes, I’m an outliner), making notes about the series and writing up character sketches. And I will still keep scrap paper nearby for easy access to some procrastination doodling.

So what about you? Pen and paper for the first draft, do you jump right into typing, or do you use a combination of both? I’d love to hear how you approach that first draft of any writing!

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4 thoughts on “How Do You Write?

  1. I used to write longhand, and when I gave that up for the computer, I would still outline longhand, like you. But the computer is just too darn convenient and efficient. Typing is much faster, as you pointed out, but it’s also much, much, MUCH easier to add in or fix things as you go along. It drives me crazy when I’m writing/outlining longhand and have to go back to an earlier point in the story and scrunch in a note about something that I’ve realized needs to happen back then. On the computer, I can just add in an extra line, and voila! That being said, however, I do miss the feel of writing longhand sometimes.


  2. I do both. I feel that pen and paper is better for getting ideas and it’s easy when you’re out and about, but I prefer computers because you can edit and I’m a faster typer and it doesn’t cramp my hands up as much.


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