Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writing Longhand

I am a byproduct of modern technology. Without it, while I'm pretty sure I'd still be a writer, I have my doubts about whether it would ever go anywhere. I know there are plenty of people out there who could and do get by without a laptop or word processing software when they are writing, but I could never be one of them. They have my utmost admiration, as I think it takes real dedication, but writing a story or a novel long hand is something I don't think I could ever do.

Mainly because I can't read my own handwriting.

This little foible of mine was brought to mind because of something I jotted down in my notebook. An idea, for a blog post, that, well.... I have no idea why I wrote it. I can read this particular note, I just don't know what it means and whatever idea it was meant to jar loose has faded so far into the background as to be irretrievable at the moment. There have been instances where I have been unable to read my writing, however, so it's a very real and tangible problem.

On the one hand, I think I'm missing out on something. I have written a short story or two longhand, or at least written long extensive notes for them, and so I understand the appeal of sitting down with nothing more than pen and paper and seeing what comes out. As I recall, Stephen King wrote one of his more recent works that way, purely as an experiment. I don't think he's stuck with it over the course of successive novels, but the impulse was there, and he went with it. As near as I could tell, it didn't make any difference in the final story. Perhaps it mattered more in the creation of it, though if so then King didn't expound on that.

I am in awe of him and the other, less famous (for now) writers I know who do this. Some of them write consistently in longhand first for their rough drafts, only committing it to type in the rewrite and edit phase. Aside from my issues with legibility, I don't think I'd have the patience to write an entire book twice to get it down in a more permanent and marketable medium. It's an extra step I just don't think I'd be willing to take.

Mind you, without the computer I'd rely on a typewriter, so it's not as if my writing aspirations couldn't materialize before the late 80's (though my spelling would suffer tremendously without those little red squiggly lines to help guide me). Yet Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, any of those went about their craft without aid of anything more then pen and paper. They didn't even have ball points. It doesn't necessarily add anything to their work in terms of its literary value – Shakespeare would still be Shakespeare had he written on a Mac – yet for me it does add to the respect I have for their accomplishments.

Perhaps the final reason for me to eschew writing it all out by hand is that there's no need. Unlike a typewriter or a desktop computer, I work from a machine that is designed to be portable. If I want to go write outside on my deck, or at the park, or anyplace else, I am limited only by my battery life. Which in my case is sufficient to get me through a few thousand words before I have to quit. Moreover, I don't need a table, I can put it... well, in my lap. Hence the name. With pen and paper I would at least need a notebook with a solid back, and I can carry my laptop just as easily (though admittedly not as lightly).

So I raise my coffee cup to those of you who can do this, knowing full well I shall never join your ranks.

And if anyone wants to take a look at my notes and see if they can help me decipher them, I'm accepting volunteers.

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