Should I write a project on the computer? Should I write a project out by hand first? Is doing both OK? Those are just some questions a writer may ask themselves when it comes to writing.
My own preference depends greatly on the project. One of my current projects, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is both. My outlining, worldbuilding and snippets are all by hand so that I don’t have to worry about losing them. Long as I have my notebook, I’m good to go. Providing, of course, the notebook isn’t somehow destroyed. And my project for Camp NaNoWriMo—an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month—is also shaping up to be this kind of hybrid approach.
On the other hand, I write my poetry almost exclusively by hand for the first draft or two. I find poetry to be a very tactile form of writing and a computer, in my opinion, doesn’t reflect how tactile writing poetry is for me.
Which brings me to the substance of this post. How do you pick one or the other writing method? What are the benefits of writing on the computer and writing longhand? The cons of both?
Writing longhand, for the purposes of this post, means to write a manuscript out by hand. Printing or cursive writing. This method of writing, since both typewriters and computers are relatively recent inventions within the vast span of history, was once the dominant form of drafting a story.
The most obvious benefit to writing longhand is one I already mentioned. You can’t lose it if your computer crashes. And, of course, the most obvious drawback is that longhand work can be lost to fire or water. However, fire and water can also mean information from a computer not saved to secondary location can be lost as well. So those issues aren’t unique to writing longhand.
Obvious benefits and cons aside, writing longhand can be viewed as a more minimalistic approach to writing. All a writer needs is some type of paper to write on and something to write with. I personally prefer gel pens or a good pencil and notebooks that are at least B6 size for portability and space. Other may prefer composition or jotter-style notebooks from companies like Rhodia or Leuchtturm 1917. And some will prefer your standard letter and A4 sized notebooks because they have the space to take it with them.
Speaking of which, being able to take a notebook with you and write anywhere is a big draw when it comes to writing longhand. No batteries to worry about means not worrying about your computer, phone etc. dying on you in the middle of a sentence. The writing can just flow for as long as you feel like writing or have the time to write during the day.
Another big draw is for some is that it allows a writer to connect with their story in a more organic way. For outlines, character profiles, and other forms of prewriting being able to just note information down puts less pressure on that part of the process. Less stress means more freedom to be creative in our approach as writers. This lack of stress also carries over to writing novels, novellas, and short stories by hand as well. The organic flow and not having wavy red lines under mistakes means the story can just flow from a writer’s pen or pencil.
While it doesn’t have nearly as long a history as writing longhand does, it is a valid choice to write the first draft of a story on the computer. A lot of writers like to take a small laptop or tablet to a coffee shop and write. Or they are perfectly happy to connect to the cloud and quickly type a paragraph while waiting in line for something. Or take some sort of tablet with them to their favorite spot outside their homes and spend some time relaxing and writing.
Having to make sure something won’t die in the middle of a sentence is a bit of a pain, I admit. But editing as you go is much easier on a computer or other electronic than on paper. Paper also can’t tell you how many words your story is at the drop of a hat. For people who frequently like to check their progress via word count, that’s a big asset. Big enough to sacrifice the true portability of writing longhand.
It’s also easier to fact check things on a computer.
Choosing A Method
So, how do you choose a method of writing? In the end, it comes down to the needs of the writer.
Do you need portability and enjoy the chance to edit as you transcribe things into the computer? Then using a notebook for your prewriting, first draft, or both may be the best bet for you.
Do you need to be able to edit and move things around as you go? Quickly check a random fact that has an effect on your plot? Enjoy the taunt that is the blinking cursor? Using a computer to write the first draft may be the best thing for you.
How do you write your first drafts?
Notebook: Clairefontaine Wirebound
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