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?