Ever since reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is, I’ve been experimenting with writing by hand. Mostly for short stories (though I did try it a little bit with novel chapters). I’ve had mixed results. Nothing is a magic bullet, creativity wise. Nothing makes it easy. It’s always something you have to do (without doing anything). That’s the problem with writing. You sit down and feel like there’s some work you need to do, and there is…but it’s all completely invisible.
Anyway, writing by hand at least solves one problem: it’s very easy to write continuously when you’re writing by hand. I think that’s because it slows down the process of composition to a level where the mind is easily able to race ahead and ponder the next few words. Whereas when I type, the pace of composition tends to be about as fast as I can think, which means that if my mind ever stutters a little bit, then I have to stop writing.
When I hand-write, however, I can write continuously for a whole morning. I mean two or even three hours might pass without my hand ceasing its motion. That’s a pretty new experience for me, and that, by itself, is fairly compelling. It’s just really fun to be that absorbed in something. Furthermore, since you’re writing by hand, there’s no electronic devices around to distract you. There’s nothing to fiddle with at all. In fact, I do all my hand-writing using pages of lined paper on a clipboard. And whenever I suffer a false start, I will–in a move I’ve learned from the movies–crumble up that page and toss it onto the ground. It’s pretty fun. And it also feels very low-stakes, somehow. You’re just toodling around with paper. Whereas when I write on a computer, the words seem very permanent, and I’m compelled to save them, I feel no compunctions about my paper drafts. In fact, I’ve thrown out (literally thrown out into the garbage) most of the things I’ve written by hand, because I just can’t see myself lugging reams of paper through the rest of my life.
On the other hand, the proof is in the results, isn’t it? And there I’m not so sure. I’ve completed two stories by hand. Both occurred in single three hour sessions. A few days later, I typed them up and straightened them out, and now they’re out on submission. But I’m not convinced they’re my best work. I mean, I could be wrong. I’ve sold plenty of stories that I didn’t think were anything special. But in this case the disjunction between the magic of creation (writing both of these stories felt spectacular) and the quality of the output felt particularly high.
Writing by hand is obviously one way to produce amazing work: Shakespeare wrote by hand; Tolstoy wrote by hand. But I question whether the output is any better than what a given writer would be likely to produce on a computer.
Nonetheless, I’m gonna keep doing it, because it’s fun, and writing is all about having fun, isn’t it?
Don’t answer that.