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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Flashwrite #5: Typing or Longhand?

My blog post on outlining and “prewriting” includes a screenshot of a “chapter flow” I composed longhand and finessed on the computer. I wrote a bit about how I use my favorite word processing and organizational program, Scrivener, here. More about Scrivener soon.

Longhand love:

Process, part 1.
Process, part 2.
Scribbling Away in Cartagena.
The Story of a Notebook (which I finished a few weeks ago—end of an era!)

Today I want to talk about an age-old question, and that is: typing or longhand? My answer to that is, why not typing and longhand? I’m a best-of-both kind of writer for sure. I think there’s this notion that many of us have that writing longhand is a more organic, more authentic, more “writerly” process. And it’s true that if you look back over your own handwriting, all the notes that you’ve made and the connections you’ve made on paper, you’ve got a record of it–it is a much more intimate process in that respect. On the other hand, I know that—if you think back on all of the great writers of the past, had they had this technology available to them, if Shakespeare could have written on a laptop, do you think he would have? I think he would have! And it’s true that a lot of us can type a lot faster than we can write, right?

So I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition. I think you need to experiment and see what works best for you. For me personally, I like to do my prewriting and my planning, I like that to be a solely longhand process. Then when I’ve got to the point where I have my outline and I’m ready to go, I will transition to the laptop. I use a word processing program called Scrivener, which I’ll talk about in an upcoming episode—how it’s worlds, worlds, worlds better than Word. (Don’t get me started on Word! Anyway…) I wanted to show you these little composition notebooks that I picked up when I was in Ireland several years ago. On a recent trip to Colombia (well, it was not that recent–it was back in January and February 2012 and I’m recording in November, but anyway) I ended up writing the bulk of my new novel in these notebooks in cafes in Cartagena and elsewhere in Colombia. It was marvelous. It was really, really lovely to feel so connected to my words. Also, there’s the benefit of no internet access, no distractions, so that concentrated my mind wonderfully. So this is really cool—I really enjoy writing longhand. But as I said, I can type a lot faster than I can write, and so, when I get into it, I’m really into the typing.

So see what works for you. Like I said, don’t think it needs to be an either-or proposition. So my suggested exercise for this time is, if you’re mostly the kind of writer who types up your notes from the very beginning in a Word document–why not try it longhand? Looseleaf paper, or a notebook, or I like to use index cards and also Rolodex cards (and I can talk about that in an upcoming episode as well). Switch it up. And if you are someone who writes only longhand, in your journal, why not try composing on your laptop for a change? So that’s my suggested exercise–five or ten minutes, fifteen minutes, switch it up. See how you feel, see how it makes you feel. I think either way can be a really intuitive process, you can feel “in the zone” either way. So try that, see how it works–typing and longhand, not typing or longhand. So thanks for watching!

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How about you? Do you like having a handwritten record of your progress, do you prefer the efficiency of your laptop, or do you use both methods?


(All Flashwrite episodes here.)

4 Comments to Flashwrite #5: Typing or Longhand?

  1. ait.mzm's Gravatar ait.mzm
    November 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this. It doesn’t have to be either/or when it comes to writing. Your post is inspiring a blogpost in me.
    I am intrigued about the rolodex cards technique. But, it sort of goes with what Scrivener has to offer.

  2. schweppits's Gravatar schweppits
    November 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Ok! I will stick to Longhand AND Typing. I generally write better in longhand; I Iike the slower pacing & feels more grounded. When I type, I’m more in my head and it’s hard not to constantly want to edit, which disrupts the flow. But I find transcribing to be tedious, so kinda wish I could write through typing better. I will keep at it with both.
    Curious about Scrivener.

  3. Camille's Gravatar Camille
    November 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Good points, Crissy (especially about longhand being grounding!) I’ll post a Scrivener video (recording my desktop, weeeee!) in the next few weeks.

  4. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    November 19, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Elliot is amazed at how much you wrote by hand. I personally like typing because then it is searchable and easier to find things later. Of course many of us still don’t have an ipad with us at all times, so the notebooks are necessary when you have those bursts of inspiration or funny moments when you are out and about.
    I thought of another idea for a segment. Jill was talking about how she would write for 4 hours everyday, but she could never bring herself to submit anything to a publisher. Maybe a more “advanced” post could be on how to take the plunge to submit your work.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.