On Writing: Typing vs. Handwriting

“Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It’s disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there’s something visceral about opening a letter—I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting.”

–  Steve Carell


It’s interesting. I used to assume that all writers preferred handwriting to typing. I think that’s because I’ve always assumed that using a pen is more personal; it lets you express yourself better. But, when I started writing books, I realized just how very in love I was with my keyboard.

Still, I’m curious what the popular consensus is amongst other authors: handwriting or typing? Obviously you can’t submit a manuscript to an editor as a notebook full of scribbling, but I’m just talking about the first draft. On one hand, when you write out a novel by hand, it certainly lets you get more in touch with the story. But on the other hand, you then have to type the whole thing up into a word doc, which you could’ve just done in the first place.

Here’s what I think.

Personally, I type. Well, most of the time, anyway.

This goes back to my previous posts about how I get my novels hammered out. I type up an outline, revise that, then turn that into the first draft, changing stuff up as I go along. By the time I reach the end of the first draft, the story is usually different from how I expected it to turn out. And it changes yet again when I go through my three stages of revision.

My point is, my editing process is far too dynamic for pen and paper. Even if I only handwrote the first draft and did the rest by computer, it’d still hold me way back. There have been times I’ve gotten to chapter fifteen, realized that chapter three should be merged with chapter four, then gone back and fixed it. Do you know how I fix that? I highlight the section and drag it down the screen while a little talking paper clip yells at me.

Okay, I realize Clippy was axed a while ago, but I had to make at least one joke.

That cutting and pasting isn’t something you can do in a notebook. So, 90% of my writing time, I keep things confined to the electronics. It’s simply a more accessible environment, especially if you get in the ‘writing zone’ like I do.

However, there is the occasional exception.

I started writing in eighth grade and got serious about it starting in tenth. Now, I know what you’re thinking: you have quite a few friends who got “serious” about writing in high school. A lot of them probably started blogs or set out to draft a book. And, a lot of them probably go too busy to pursue the ambition.

Which is a really nice way of saying ‘gave up.’

Sorry, that was mean, but it’s true. If you’re serious about something, you make time for it. Simple.

I’m serious about writing.

And the way I made time for it in high school? I carried around a notebook. And every spare second I had—every free period in school, or during lunch, or those few minutes spent waiting for the bus—I wrote. Even if it was a small scene. Then as soon as I got home, I’d type it right into my word doc, and that was that.

Now, I do handwrite things when I’m writing something important for myself. For example, just before I hit the ‘send’ on my query letter last March, I got out a fancy fountain pen and wrote a few words to myself. Or, on my last day of eleventh grade, at the moment I became a Senior. And, I’m one of those sentimental people who loves writing letters to people. I usually don’t, since text or email is faster, but for important occasions, I’ll dig out the pen and paper.

So, that’s my closest brush with handwriting. And I’ll admit, there’s something nice about being able to write a novel chapter, then type it up and tweak it as you put it into text. But I just don’t think it’s practical to do that on a novel-wide scale. I’ll write by hand if I have to, but if I have any choice, I’ll go with my keyboard. Typing out a book on a loud keyboard makes me feel like I’m creating something important, in any case.

Plus, I have terrible handwriting.


2 thoughts on “On Writing: Typing vs. Handwriting

  1. When I wrote my first novel (I’ve written 3. They aren’t all published) I actually wrote about half of it by hand. Where our techniques differed is that I used index cards, and I wrote ideas on the index cards. Then I moved the index cards around until I liked how the plot flowed, and moved from there to journal pages, or a word processor (depending on if I was in school or at home). I found that when I focused on the overall ideas, I had a lot less “I should merge chapter 3 with chapter 4” experiences. Also, because I was writing bits and pieces of the book separated by class times, etc, it made me really, REALLY, get to know my plot well. I can actually tell you, almost to the page, when each event happens in the one book that I published, because I had to be able to connect the plot in my head and know what had happened and when it had happened, as well as how to draw from that.

    This being said, I am now a word processing user, because I am more busy and I type much faster than I handwrite, and I also have horrible handwriting. But were I to possess the time, I think I’d merge the two, and put my plot onto notecards before typing chapters for the sake of efficiency.

    Made me think. Thanks. I don’t think about the process often enough, and lose my focus on the product as a result.

  2. That’s all really interesting. Your index card idea is intriguing; that’s a great way to handwrite but still move around plot ideas, which is why I prefer word, cause you can drag text. But I’m also very unorthodox about how I write, despite how organized I make myself sound :D
    But seriously, a lot of times I’ll literally change up a character or cut them out halfway through the novel. I don’t “familiarize” myself with the plot like you do, at least not at first; I use outlines as a stepping stone to get a loose book thrown together, then I keep tweaking it until it’s solid and clean. That usually takes a while.
    I guess as long as you get the solid book done, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

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