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September 02, 2009

  • Writing In Pen
  • I do something which I think hardly anyone does anymore. About 90% of what I write is done in longhand, using a pen and a top-coil office pad: articles, letters, reviews, short fiction, even screenplays.

    This happened because I discovered I preferred writing anywhere but my office space (at home or at work) and I have a longstanding hatred of laptops. Not because laptops are evil or anything—it’s just that I prefer typing on a full-size keyboard and could never feel comfortable with the condensed version on a laptop.

    More than that, there are two benefits I find to writing in longhand that I can’t get out of typing. The first is speed. You see, I can type between 90-100 words a minute when I’m concentrating, and around 100-120 words per minute when I’m just not bothered. I’m a scary-fast typist. But I type faster than my thought processes and I often spend a lot of time stopping, going back, retyping, going back retyping again. (And that’s ignoring typos). Writing in longhand is easier for me because I’m thinking at about the same speed I’m writing. If I think of something to add I just write it in the margins or insert it above. The result is that I feel more comfortable as I try to rough things out

    That’s the other, and possibly chief benefit: writing in longhand enables me to do the equivalent of a quick charcoal sketch of something. I come out with a rough layout of what I want to write. I can then use the process of typing it as a means of refining it, editing the text I’ve written as I go along. Some people would find that frustrating but I actually find it remarkably helpful to my writing process. I’ve done all the heavy lifting at the handwriting stage. Now I can figure out the trickier bits—the prose, the pacing, the overall structure.

    Just for the fun of it, I thought I’d include a sample of a handwritten draft and the end result. This is a review of the new Doctor Who DVD Attack of the Cybermen which was published in a recent issue of the Doctor Who fanzine Enlightenment. I’m not going to transcribe it so you’ll have to strain to read what passes for my handwriting (or hand printing as the case may be). Click on it to enlarge it:

    Here’s the final version, as published in Enlightenment:

    As you can see, the draft I’ve handwritten really is nothing more than a rough sketch, with all sorts of blind alleys—the first paragraph is completely excised in the final version—and rephrasing and fine tuning. At the same time, the general thrust is pretty much the same.

    For years, the hardest part about writing for me was getting the basic thing down because I would revise as I wrote and I would get tremendously frustrated. Writing in longhand gives me the headspace to do the thinking it out and then I use the process of typing for the refinement of prose. As a result, I hardly ever type anything ‘cold’ anymore—the only time I do is if I’m really pushed for a deadline. The majority of typewritten writing I do these days is on e-mails and, now, blog entries!

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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