Is writing longhand obsolete?

Most aspiring authors I know tend to write at their computers, and I imagine this is similar for published authors, though I don’t know any of those personally. In many ways, I think computers and word processors have revolutionised writing, to the point where many of my writing friends would claim writing by hand is obsolete. Most people can type faster than they can write (as a Software Developer who spends my workday typing, I certainly fall into this category), scenes written out of order can be organised on the hard drive, and it’s certainly easier to modify text on screen than on paper. Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself writing by hand more. It’s slower, but it feels more intimate, free of the distractions posed by looking up a geographical detail or searching a previous draft to see how I describe a particular scene. Instead, I just write those notes in the margins to be dealt with later. I have a bad habit of trying to edit and write at the same time, which tends to make me overly critical of my writing while I’m still trying to craft the story, and writing by hand makes that harder and, therefore, makes me less likely to do that. Besides, I have a beautiful fountain pen that really deserves more use.

Another reason I’ve been appreciating writing by hand is that it’s helping end my love-hate relationship with LibreOffice’s word count, which handily appears in the bottom toolbar (I haven’t used MS Word in about six years, because the open-source LibreOffice serves all my word processing and spreadsheet needs, but as of Word 2003 I believe you had to actually select the word count from the toolbar rather than having it constantly update). I’m a very all-or-nothing kind of person, so I’d aim for a target of 1000 words a day, which is generally attainable but challenging on days when the words just don’t come easily. Now that I write in two roughly fifteen-minute periods – while I finish my breakfast cup of tea and while I have another cup after work before making dinner – and write without a word count in mind, I just focus on sitting down with my pen, paper and mug, and writing for as long as I can afford.

Even so, I’m not entirely satisfied with writing by hand. It is much slower, and with short periods of time in which to write it’s perhaps not the most efficient. It also means that sooner or later I will have to type up what I’ve written, spending even more time. As my biggest issues with writing on the computer are the distractions posed by the word count and the internet, perhaps I need to take a leaf out of George R. R. Martin’s book and install a basic OS with a simple word processor on my old laptop.

What about you? How do you like to write?

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4 thoughts on “Is writing longhand obsolete?

  1. I have never mastered typing, although I can tap pretty quickly. The main drawback is I cannot read from the keyboard and screen at the same time. I do write by hand sometimes, but just for brief inspirations while I’m eating or cooking, or in the middle of the night. I have to write in capitals too if I want it to be legible later. 🙂

    Using a computer is so so useful for revision, rearranging and having other tabs open or easily accessed (dictionary, thesaurus, RhymeZone, search engine etc) is a godsend. I can also easily bring up previous pieces which is frequently helpful. When tackling tightly composed poetic format I like to use Excel. I can put lines in blocks and move them around and I use different colours as a visual aid to remembering metre, stanza length etc.

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  2. I constantly find myself drawn to long, elaborate fictions that are created with pencil and paper(s). Although using a laptop or tablet is so much easier and saves me the pain of holding my pencil too tightly and having to force my hand to keep up with my thoughts, I love the originality of sitting down before a desk and just writing.

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