No, I Do NOT Prefer Writing by Hand
(A piece I can just link to the next time I see this question.)
So in all my writing groups, the same question rolls around rather often: “Does anyone else prefer to write their stories using pen and paper?”
“Don’t you prefer writing longhand?”
“Doesn’t it feel more like real writing?”
And although I try to be polite, my response is generally along the lines of NO. GOOD LORD, NO. NOT ONLY NO, BUT HELL NO. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
I know that some people still like writing things by hand, and that’s great. Whatever works best for you and keeps you writing is a good thing.
But me? Throughout my life I’ve embraced whatever new technology came along to make writing lots of material for long stretches easier for me, and I have Never. Looked. Back.
It’s not that I haven’t tried it. When I was a teenager, in the days when people had just barely graduated from painting animals on cave walls to tell stories, I kept lots of diaries, journals, and story drafts that were all handwritten.
But when it was time to show other people those stories, I sat at the IBM Selectric in my parents’ bedroom and clickety-clacked away and used those chalky little correction strips if I made a mistake. Once I took typing lessons at school and greatly increased my speed, I liked typing even more.
First of all, my handwriting sucks. It sucked back then, and it sucks even more now that computers have taken over the world and I rarely need to handwrite anything longer than a shopping list or a thank-you note. I’m doing well if I can write my own name without making a sloppy mistake. (If I’m ever in a position where people want autographed copies of my novels, be ready for lots of signatures from “Niole”, “Nicoe,” and the like.) I’m not even sure if I’d be able to read a first draft that I wrote by hand.
And back then, my stories always felt a lot more real to me when I saw them typed neatly—the way they would look if they were published. Once I liked a story well enough to type it up and show other people, I felt like I’d really committed to it.
When I was in college, my mother gifted me with a Magnavox word processor so I wouldn’t have to keep trudging to the library or to the campus’s sole computer lab (those were the days!) for my many papers. When word got out at school about this, I became one of the more popular students in my dorm; I’d accept payments of beer and cigarettes for typing papers or letting people type their own.
From there I graduated to sneakily writing stuff at work and printing it out on the office computers when nobody was looking. And then I got my own computers and printers and didn’t have to sneak anymore.
That’s not to say that I didn’t write anything by hand. I still think back fondly on the novel I wrote in college that was a thinly-disguised version of my own life except for an attempt to rewrite a real-life failed relationship. (I was the one who got to walk away. Yay!) So inspired was I that I’d sit in dark bars scrawling that sucker on cocktail napkins. That mental image still makes me smile, and I don’t think it would feel quite as charming if I’d just lugged a laptop around to write the thing.
But napkins smear and stain and get lost, and I have no idea where that draft is now. That’s OK. It was probably awful, except for the “probably” part.
And I have tons of notebooks in the house, in my purse, and anywhere else I might be when inspiration strikes. I’ll use them to jot down new story ideas, revision ideas for a current WIP, conversations I overhear that might be dialogue fodder, or anything else I want to be sure that I don’t forget.
But another thing holds me up with writing by hand: Cramps. My hand would cramp up and need a lot of shaking out just as I was really getting into a story groove, whereas I can type for hours without pain as long as I remember to stand up and take stretching breaks and walk around every so often. I read about people who write their NaNoWriMo novels by hand, and holy crap. Just thinking about that makes me start shaking out my hand and reaching for the Tylenol.
And preferences aside, I do not for one second accept any suggestions that my writing is somehow less “real” just because I prefer doing it on the computer. In the end, choose whichever method you like and remember: Readers care about the finished product. Nobody has ever asked me “Did you write that on your laptop, or with pen and paper?”