Friday, December 13, 2013

[Writer's Musings] Writing Longhand: Pros and Cons

Recently, I've been considering converting to writing all of my first drafts longhand. There's a couple of reasons for this, the biggest being that mum is getting increasingly panicky about the electricity bill, leading to repeated and heated discussions about how much time I spend on the computer. I've tried rationing myself, setting specific blocks of time each day for blogging, writing, job-searching and more leisurely activities such as IRC chat and streaming video on LoveFilm. But that still all mounts up to an average of eight hours per day, and even then there are days when I lose track and go over my allotted computing time. So the first pro of - and my main reason for considering switching to - writing longhand is that it saves energy.

My second reason for considering the switch is plain old nostalgia. Back when I started writing in high school, I didn't have a personal computer to do all my work on, and I think I was probably more productive as a writer back then. Probably because I didn't have the rabbit hole that is the internet to suck me in and distract me from getting the work done. Which brings me to another pro of writing longhand, that it cuts down on the distraction of the internet, not to mention any games, videos, etc., which might be on one's hard drive.

A third possible pro is that it reduces the problem of editing as you go. Sure, you can still cross out words that don't fit and add notes between lines or in the margins, but it doesn't interrupt the flow of your writing as much as stopping to press backspace or highlight whole lines of text to delete.

Another point in favour of writing longhand is portability. Yes, I know, these days we have these handy devices called laptops for that, but if you only have a desktop and can't afford to buy a laptop (or if, like me, your laptop won't work without a mains power supply) then carrying a hardback jotter to write in is a good alternative. and there's just something nice about buying yourself a fancy new notebook to work on a new project with.

The next point can either be a pro or a con, depending on your perspective. Once you've written your manuscript or blog post longhand, you will eventually have to type it up on computer to make it ready for submission or publishing online.  On the face of it, that might seem like a nuisance and a time sink, but look at it another way: typing that work up on PC is basically your first edit of novel/short story/whatever in question. At least, when I'm editing my work, I find it helpful to print off my work and edit by pen; if I'm writing longhand, that part of the editing process has already been dealt with.

Now let's talk about the cons. I wrote the first draft of this post (and yesterday's post) longhand, and my writing hand was cramped up by the time I was done. RSI is an occupational hazard of writing whether you're typing on a keyboard or putting pen to paper, but you definitely feel it more when you're writing longhand. As with typing at a computer though, this can be dealt with by remembering to take regular breaks and give your hand a rest.

One of the other cons I've heard mentioned with regard to writing longhand is that some people have trouble reading their own handwriting when it comes to the editing stage. My own handwriting has been referred to as looking like a chicken walked across the page after taking a dip in a puddle of ink, but I can still read it myself (most of the time). This isn't true for everybody though. Some people may also find that they type quicker than they can write by hand, or vice versa.

Those are all the points I can think of, but at the end of the day I think this is one of those things where your mileage may vary. Personally, I'm strongly considering the switch for purely practical reasons, but you'll have to decide whether it's a good fit for your own work or not. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments, as I'd be interested in hearing other points of view about this.

(Note: I'm not going to have time to type up my Geekly Weekly Report today, so I'll post it on Sunday. See you then!)

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