When I first started writing, I wrote (and drew!) by hand. Fairly soon after, I started writing using my mum’s computer and saving to a floppy disk (this was the late ‘90s). I found that typing was a) more legible, b) easier and neater to correct if I went wrong or changed my mind about something, and eventually, c) faster.
Fast forward seventeen(!) years, and I challenged myself over the summer to write a novel by hand. I got 3000 words in and felt like I was drowning. My poor hand couldn’t keep up with the ideas in my head. Because of things, things got lost, I got writer’s cramp, and I lost my patience.
But the characters wouldn’t go away.
I typed up what I had so far (giving myself eyestrain looking at the silly patterns on the paper), then continued the way I felt most comfortable: on my laptop.
I still used the notebook for character descriptions, the original plot outline and other notes, but I found typing much freer than handwriting. Even now, typing up the second draft of this piece, it’s much faster than when I wrote the original by hand.
I still like writing by hand. Normally I do a first draft using pen and paper, and then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I’d always use “narrow feint” writing paper. But I have been known to write on all sorts of weird things when I didn’t have a notepad with me. The names of the Hogwarts Houses were created on the back of an aeroplane sick bag. Yes, it was empty.
I still enjoy writing by hand, but most of what I handwrite isn’t over 1000 words. I’ll write by hand if I need a break from staring at a screen, or it’s late and I really need to get an idea down. A lot of my poems were handwritten until fairly recently. I frequently find poems I don’t remember writing in old notebooks.
Lately I’ve been using my phone for writing more. I always have it on me, which is great if I have an idea for something and nothing to write it down on—we can’t always control when creativity strikes.
I was out with my partner a few weeks ago, and the opening lines of a poem slipped into my head. I was holding his hand and carrying a bunch of flowers. I let go and gave him the flowers, insisting I needed to write it down NOW. I have a terrible memory, so if I hadn’t written it down standing beside the crockery in the middle of John Lewis, one of my most recently poems (that I recently performed at Jazz & Poetry), may not exist.
New technology allows us more ways to create than we’ve ever had. It has its pitfalls just like pen and paper, but the age that we live in means that most people expect work to be typed eventually. Nowadays, no one would dare hand in a handwritten essay, let alone a manuscript to an agent.
Some people may have issues with security, particularly if things are saved on clouds, but so long as you’re careful you shouldn’t need to worry. Why would a hacker steal the novel of someone they’ve never heard of? (And even if they have heard of you, sorry, but they’re probably more interested in photos of naked celebrities. Sigh.)
Technology can go wrong at any point, but that’s why the golden rule is always to back up your work. It’s up to you how regularly you back it up. You can also buy things like Apple’s Time Capsule which will back everything up for you automatically. Should you write on a phone or tablet using certain apps (like Apple’s notes feature, or Microsoft’s OneNote), it’s automatically backed up into their cloud.
Some people also swear by spellcheck, all though I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing because spellcheck can make you lazy, and its grammatical check can get things wrong.
There is of course the worry of battery life, but writing on a piece of technology doesn’t eat battery, what does it everything else that you do such as watching things, streaming, having the brightness turned up, and having too many things open at once. If you want to go out and do some writing but are worried about your battery dying, make sure that your laptop/tablet is fully charged before you leave the house, turn off features like WiFi and Bluetooth (which also eat battery), and only have the necessary documents open. Most batteries these days will give you a good few hours, and even more if you turn off things like WiFi.
Pen and paper carries just as many risks as technology—notes can be lost or left, pens can run out mid-idea and there’s always that embarrassing problem of not being able to read your own handwriting. (Yes, I do fall into this category, but thankfully not all the time.)
Typing work also allows us to share work with our peers faster, and create multiple copies without injuring our wrists or making it look scruffy. Notes can also now be added to pieces without the need to print it off with features like Microsoft Word’s ‘Comments’. This means that the notes you make are legible, tree-friendly and you can delete any if you change your mind!
Writing by hand may be fun and a notebook easier to carry around than a laptop, but modern technology has made writing easier than ever, and the surge in self-publication and blogs is proof of that. Whether or not this is a good thing is up to you.
Ultimately, the best way to write is all down to personal preference.
What do you think? Is it a good thing that writing—or at least the ability to write—is now easier than ever, and we now all have instant access to a global audience? Let me know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!