If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen (a couple of months ago now) that I’ve been having a go at writing a novel by hand.
I’ve long been hearing of the benefits of writing by hand. Heaps of authors do it (so I’ve read); Isobelle Carmody and Stephen King, for example.
Then there were all these amazing articles about the benefits of handwriting: all of which I have managed to lose, despite planning on keeping links for this post. The Australian Writer’s Centre podcast ‘So You Want to be a Writer’, also discussed this in Episode 108.
In this podcast, Allison and Valerie refer to an article in Forbes magazine: ‘Three Ways writing with a pen positively affects your brain’.
“sequential hand movements, like those used in handwriting, activate large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory”
The theories are that handwriting increases creativity, as well as increasing neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation, and it forces us to slow down and think about what we’re doing.
So I tried it out.
These are my findings…
You can carry an exercise book with you wherever you go, and all it takes is a moment to flip open the page and start writing. I almost never take my laptop anywhere, and when I turn it on it always takes several minutes to load up, and then to get the document open. If I have an idea burning to be written down – it could well be lost by the time my laptop is ready. (On saying this, I carry a notebook with me everywhere anyway. So I do often jot down story ideas that come to me when I’m out and about, and then I just transcribe them to the computer when I get home. The only real benefit here is that you’ve got your whole story with you where-ever you go.)
I love the sound of pages that have been covered in writing – there’s that lovely crinkle that they have when you turn the page or pages. Music to my ears.
Speed = slow!
I type fast. When I’m in the zone, I can manage 2000 words in half an hour – though it usually takes me time to build up to that, time that I don’t really have at the moment with three kids about. But it’s not hard for me to hit 1000 in an hour or so if I have the time and space to do it. Not so for my handwriting. I struggled to hit 500 words a day. My best day was day 2, where I managed 1600 words, and out of 36 days in total I managed to reach 750 words (or above) on only 9 of those days. The rest ranged between 250 and 500, with the bulk down the 250 end. And every day I stayed up for a good couple of hours after the rest of the house had gone to sleep to make sure I got some words down.
This is linked to the above. When I write a story, I have ideas flowing all the time for what is coming up next. If I’m typing, I can get the story down quick enough to get to those ideas and write them down. Handwriting… no. I had so many ideas that were lost because it took me so long to get this-little-bit-now down. (Interestingly, as I type up what I’ve handwritten, I’m having all sorts of new scenes and ideas come to me, which I’m able to add now. Scenes which improve and expand the story line. I have no idea whether they were the same ideas I had first time round, but they seem to be improving it either way!)
Too hard to back up
When I’m typing out a story, it’s easy to email myself a version at the end of every day (or every couple of days), to provide a back-up should something dreadful happen. If I’m carrying my entire story around with me, it could end up lost somewhere. And with children running around there is always the risk of drinks being spilled, or pages torn out and lost. The story I’ve been handwriting has lovely ‘illustrations’ from my two year old – directly over my writing (or perhaps she’s getting into editor mode early, and letting me know what needs fixing??). Thankfully I can still make out my own words underneath her scribbles, if I squint hard enough, so all is not lost… it’s just been made a little more complicated.
For me, writing by hand is definitely a ‘nay’. While I would never get rid of either the notebook beside the bed or the one in my handbag for jotting down those moments of inspiration, I just can’t see myself writing a full novel this way. While it’s possible that I had a boost in creativity (it didn’t feel any different to usual), I wasn’t able to capture all those new ideas, so they were lost to me. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe they weren’t as great as I thought they were at the time, but without having recorded them to glance over, I’ll never know for sure. And while I obviously have no real idea what my neural activity is doing, I often feel the same affects from writing a story as I do from meditation, regardless of whether I’m typing or writing by hand.
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If you’re a writer, (of any form) how do you prefer to write? And have you ever tried to do it another way?
6 thoughts on “Novel Writing by Hand? Yay or Nay?”
I had a mentor who wrote three (academic) books – all by hand. He went on to type them up by pecking at the keyboard with two fingers.
Not for me.
Long gone are the days when I wrote better by hand. Now it’s typing all the way, for mainl the reasons you listed. So I’m with you. I love my fountain pen, but for serious writing give me a keyboard any day.
Wow – the thought of writing any academic books by hand makes my head hurt! Then again, if I could only type with two fingers, I might do the same. 🙂
I’m a digital native. I have always had access to a computer and I learnt to type the same time I learnt to write. I feel the speed of which I can type actually hinders me. My mind goes a mile a minute and if I type it comes out garbled. If I hand write it, it tends to come out more concise as I’m slower and being mindful of my words. There are certainly down sides such as the fact over half of my current manuscript is handwritten across three notes book but I tend to be able to write everyday with a notebook as it is different to my day job which requires a computer.
That’s really interesting that your typing comes out garbled (though on saying that, sometimes mine does too – but that tends to be more when my fingers are cold and they don’t move at the speed I’m used to). I also have the benefit of not having a job that requires me to be on computer all day. I imagine I’d feel differently about it if that were the case. 🙂
Ah your last point has definitely hit a nerve, I do spend all day on the computer at work so if I write in the evening it’s usually in a notebook. The thought of opening my laptop after work brings up all kinds of aversion 🙂 On the weekend it’s not such a problem. Writing in my notebook feels more contemplative, I let ideas mull longer. I like it! But Heather…. 2000 words in 1/2 hr??! Oh my goodness 😨
What can I say – when the words are flowing, the words are flowing. 😉 Sometimes the words don’t flow, and I definitely turn to my notebook for those moments – when I need that contemplative time – when I need to explore what is happening in the story or work my way through a problem. I could never get rid of my pen and notebook altogether – they’re just too handy. 🙂