Yesterday, unable to face the monster word document of my second draft lurking away in my hard drive, I pulled out a notepad and started scribbling. An hour later, I found I’d rewritten an entire chapter of my book from scratch. It had been so long since I’d written anything more than post-its and quick notes that I had entirely forgotten the benefits of writing longhand.
It’s interesting to think that every author until recent times has written out their work by hand. The computer screen has only existed for a relatively short amount of time. In fact, many writers still make the decision to write longhand in favour of using a computer. Quentin Tarantino said as much in an interview with Reuters a few years ago.
‘My ritual is, I never use a typewriter or computer. I just write it all by hand. It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationary store and buy a notebook – and I don’t buy like ten. I just buy one and then fill it up. Then I buy a bunch of red felt pens and a bunch of black ones, and I’m like, ‘These are the pens I’m going to write ‘Grindhouse” with.’
There’s something innately satisfying about putting pen to paper – filling up a notebook with real, substantial words. Something that’s missing with the transient nature of a word processor. On paper, words seem to carry more weight behind them – more permanence. When I’m scribbling longhand it feels personal, not something disconnected like filing taxes or a TPS report. And without the ability to delete a sentence from existence with a simple click, I find myself thinking harder about what I write next. Longhand seems to naturally improve the quality of my writing.
Another huge benefit of course, is there’s no internet to distract you with just pen and paper. I wonder if authors of the past would have been as productive as they were if they had access to the wealth of online resources we do today. These days, it’s too easy for your attention to wander and a short while later, find yourself tumbling down in an electronic rabbit hole. I wrote about boredom in creativity a few weeks ago.
There are downsides of course. Writing by hand is much slower than using a computer. Nothing will approach the same level of speed as touch typing. And corrections become more difficult as you can’t just print off another copy of your work. The inability to backup your work becomes a concern as well – there’s no Dropbox with a notepad. So some convenience is lost when you remove a computer from the process. But on the other hand, you can take a pen and paper anywhere you go.
So if you prefer handwriting to the cold, blankness of a computer screen, then you’re by no means alone. Any amount of googling will turn up other writers who prefer writing in longhand during this digital age – a time when people cycle through garish, throwaway iProducts faster than the child labour produces them. I know I regret not starting my first draft on paper, and with a certain stubborness, I know that any future writing I do will begin with a blank notebook and the touch of a familiar pen in my hand.
© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Photo by Joel Montes de Oca licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.