The Pen, The Keyboard and The Writing

In the absence of any update from me (yes, I know, I know, I’m sorry) here is the second guest post here at Mirrormask Fiction. This one comes from Sam Lee over at Thinking Out Loud.

Hello, gentle readers of Joel’s blog. I’m Sam, guest blogging from, and write in a multitude of genres and in story lengths with the goal of telling a good, enjoyable story. This year I’ve written quite a few short stories, for the first time in years and years, and had a blast. Next year I expect to write both novels and short stories, and have just as much fun. Check out my blog for story-on-sale-updates and general writing and publishing thoughts that I just can’t keep to myself.

I’ve been a touch typist for a very long time, but my first love was writing longhand, and there’s something about the process that makes for a different writing style, and a different thinking style, than what comes out from the keyboard.

Almost all of the stories I’ve written this year I’ve written–as in composed, drafted, finished–on the computer, via typing. Sure, I’ve scribbled some notes in longhand and so forth, but mostly, they are results of time at the keyboard.

Recently, though, I wrote a story with a first draft purely based on paper, in longhand. The way writers two hundred years ago and beyond wrote all the time, I reminded myself as I struggled, at first, to read my own handwriting and find a comfortable hand, and tried to throttle my thoughts both slowly enough to transcribe to paper and yet quickly enough to follow the relentless pace of the pen moving across the blank page.

I know I write differently longhand than on the keyboard; I can almost fool myself that at times, I can type at the speed of the imprints my thoughts leave in my mind before they fade, whereas I almost have to imagine more vividly and in detail, and more heavily, when writing by hand, since my hand will most assuredly not keep up with my racing thoughts. I don’t know how Shakespeare did it, honestly, or Jane Austen, or Dickens, or Tolstoy (okay, he had his poor wife!), or any of the writers who came before us managed to write as much as they did by hand, and often, with quills and ink instead of long-lasting steel nibs and so on. Perhaps it gave them more time to think, and less time “drafting”, and made them more decisive (or at least more decided) in their daily writing, in their writing workday.

For there is something physically satisfying about writing longhand, and a pleasant shift in composition and in thinking that I don’t even realize until I’m well into the day’s work. Too, there’s something satisfying about having irrevocably “done” pages–compared to the ephemeral-seeming nature of pixels on screen–that gives you a sense of accomplishment like no other. I don’t think I could keep it up for everything I write, but I can foresee doing this again, for a change
of pace, perhaps, or to indulge myself. The problem is that I still have to get the words and stories onto a typed page (actually, into a computer file) in order to publish and submit it, and frankly, it seems easier to save myself the time of transcription to just write straight onto the computer, as it were.

If–no, when–I do write another story longhand, however, there’s a pitfall that tripped me up for a while and that I’ll share with you. In typing up that first draft after I finished the longhand-story, I got stuck somewhere after the opening pages and avoided the task for a while. I didn’t realize until a few days later what had stopped me.

Instead of merely transcribing the story on the page, I realized I’d been rewriting it on the fly as I typed, trying to improve the storyline or bring in more details, or some other such thing. I hadn’t prepared any notes on any “fixes”, and in any case, had had no intention of rewriting the dratted thing when I’d finished it, but there I was, getting in my own way, trying to make it perfect, or at least “cleaner”, when I had no idea if what I was doing was having that effect. I caught myself in time: the brain, like a car, does not do well when you press the gas and brake pedals at the same time. You
get nowhere fast and it’s bad for the car, and frustrating for the brain.

I re-learned the hard way that the Heinlein rule that once you have finished a story, leave it the **** alone, refrain from rewriting it (especially on the fly!), and get on with the next. If you think you had any problems in an old story, “fix” it in the new story. Even–or especially–with longhand stories.

So the overall lesson learned on longhand writing is that, after I write it, I still have to make myself apply Heinlein’s Rules to it. Write, finish, don’t rewrite, send it out, keep it up.

I’ll make myself transcribe directly from the paper to the typed page, and then put the story up and leave it alone.

How about you? Do you write longhand, or on the keyboard? If you do both, do you find yourself writing differently? What do you do when you transcribe from paper to pixels?

This is my first guest blog, so be gentle. (grin)


Posted on November 26, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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