Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thoughts On Writing—Longhand Girl in a Techno World

I’m sitting at Wendy’s writing this blog post in a notebook and my son just said to me, “Why would you write a blog post in a notebook? That’s sacrilegious.”

Whatever the opposite of a Luddite is, that’s my son. If he needs to do homework and there’s no computer available, it doesn’t even occur to him to work on the essay longhand.

I often hear writers bemoaning the fact that their electricity is out so they can’t get any work done. I look at my pen and notebook and can’t figure out how electricity outage is keeping them from working. During the daytime, at least. At night, candles don’t quite cut it, and they can set your notebooks on fire.

The truth is, I’ve always composed longhand. Of course, back in the day, I didn’t have much choice. It was either longhand or a manual typewriter that made my wrists ache. Later my parents bought me an electric typewriter, which was easier on my wrists, but I still wrote my first drafts by hand.

I like specific pens. I like certain kinds of paper. In high school I liked rolling ball ink pens and looseleaf paper. In my twenties I preferred Bic sticks and steno pads. In the last few years I’ve switched to Moleskine notebooks, composition tablets, and Sharpie pens—the kind that don’t soak through the paper—and Sharpie liquid graphite erasable pencils that turn permanent after day or two, because they’re the coolest things ever.

I like the flexibility of writing by hand. I can stick a notebook in my purse and write anywhere. I also like the way it feels. There’s just something about the feel of a pen sliding over paper that makes writing feel more real to me.

There are disadvantages, of course. I have a tendency to misplace notebooks. A lost notebook can undermine my productivity for days at a time. (Or months. I’m great at losing things.) And then there’s transcription.

When I mention to my editors or other writers that I’ve got a story finished except for transcription, I’m often met with a O.o (an O.o? Who knows…). And looking at a full notebook that needs to be transcribed is kind of like looking at a sink full of dirty dishes. It takes time. And until recently, it was uncomfortable.

I recently made the leap to dictating software, though, which has made it a lot easier. My decision came largely because of carpal tunnel syndrome. I was waking up in the middle of the night unable to feel my hands. I’d try to pet the dog and end up pummeling her with big, numb clubs. She didn't appreciate it very much.

With dictation software—I use Dragon Dictate for Mac—I can just read the story into my computer. It’s actually faster than typing—and I type 100+ words per minute—and the dictation mistakes can be really entertaining.

I’ve written books on the computer, but I don’t think I’ve ever written an entire story on the computer. At some point I always end up with pen and paper, especially if I’m having trouble getting the words to flow. When I was spending more time drafting on the computer, before my wrists got worse, many, many stories started with several scenes written by hand before I started lining everything up in Scrivener (or Word, back in the Bad Old PC days). So when it comes to my current most efficient method of writing, longhand it is, no matter how many O.o’s I get.

If you’re a longhand girl (or boy) too, stick to your guns. Some days it seems there aren’t many of us left.