But many writers prefer to write their first drafts using a good old-fashioned paper and pen.
Writing by hand slows down the process and allows for thinking.
Writing guru Julia Cameron compares hand-writing verus typing straight onto the PC, as the difference between driving at 60mph and 80mph. At the slower speed, you notice yourself and your surroundings more. She believes that ‘we get a truer connection – to ourselves and our deepest thoughts – when we actually put pen to page.’
But for others, writing by hand is too messy and laborious. A handwritten page will never look quite as professional – or as ‘finished’ – as a neat page of Times New Roman 12 point.
But which is best?
It may of course, depend on what you’re writing and whether you can touch type.
Linda Lewis makes the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. If she’s working on a short story, then she writes by hand first and then types it up (as a first edit) but for non fiction, she goes straight to her PC.
“I find that writing fiction requires more fluidity. Non fiction is more structured. I know what I want to say and just say it. Stories are different. Organic, if you like. I often start with one thing and end up somewhere else entirely.”
Novelist Samantha Tonge, on the other hand, swears by the PC and her touch typing skills. She used to hand write but when she changed she felt ‘it was a relief to be able to edit, without crossing through, and not have to type up at the end of the day.’
Samantha also admits that, like many of us, since she learned to touch type her writing has degenerated anyway and it’s just so much quicker to type.
Of course, many argue that it’s easy to lose work on a computer. There’s always the risk of power cuts, corrupted files, forgetting to back up files or even – as happened to novelist Louis de Bernieres – having your laptop stolen. (His contained four chapters of a new novel and he didn’t have copies. He said, at the time, “I never make disk copies of my work because I am not a computer boffin. I prefer just to do print-outs on paper after I have finished each chapter. But I had not been doing that because I had been writing in the summerhouse and the printer was indoors.” The thieves stole his laptop from the summer house…).
But equally, notebooks can be lost or stolen too and you’re even less likely to have a copy of those.
Certainly, though, one advantage of hand-writing, is that it’s ‘portable’. Most of us can manage to tuck a notebook and pen into a bag or pocket, ready to be whipped out whenever we have a spare moment or a flash of inspiration.
It’s not quite so easy to do that with a laptop and indeed, if you’ve ‘trained’ yourself only to write when you’re sitting in front of your PC, you could be missing out on lots of writing opportunities.
Director Quentin Tarantino never uses a keyboard: he writes all his own screenplays by hand. “It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationery store and buy a notebook — and I don’t buy 10. I just buy one and then fill it up.”
Of course, for many writers, the actual process of writing is a deeply pleasurable one, linked to choosing just the right pen or pencil and the perfect notebook (lined, or plain? A4 or A5?).
Writing by hand is certainly a great excuse to indulge a love for stationery.
But there are other options. Barbara Cartland famously dictated her hundreds of romance novels to a secretary, as she inclined on the sofa!
Not many of us could afford such luxury – or, if we’re honest, have the ability to verbalise our thoughts instantaneously – but if you like the idea of ‘speaking’ your writing, you can buy speech recognition programmes for your PC that will type up your words as you dictate them (has anyone ever tried one of those?).
If you’re still typing with two fingers, why not set yourself the challenge of learning to touch type and speed up your accuracy and typing skills? It’s not difficult (I managed it!) – it just takes a little practice – and there are plenty of free on-line courses on the internet eg: Typing Club here.
But beware of the overriding danger of typing up the first draft of anything: it looks finished. You’re likely to be more reluctant to start tweaking a piece of work when it looks so polished, whereas, a rough draft on paper, complete with crossings-out, scribbles and notes in the margin, looks like a first draft and you won’t be so resistant to changing it.
So, PC or pen? Which is best? At some point, your work will almost certainly need to be typed up, so the temptation to go straight to the screen is always there.
But don’t neglect writing by hand. You may find it liberating. And it’s a reminder to all of us, that writing is, after all, a craft.
Based on an article first published in Writing magazine, 2013.