Uncanny Vale

Home to the Literary Creations
of Erin Wilcox

Writing by Hand

I have maintained a handwritten journal for as long as I can remember, and I often write first drafts by hand. Like most writers, I revise and sometimes compose onscreen. From time to time I wonder, how does my writing process affect the work?

Recently, I revised a first-person short story with my editor. I noticed how her line edits created gaps in the narrator’s thought process. Reading over the gaps, I understood that the original thoughts were either implied or otherwise unnecessary. My reading experience was greatly improved by these pleasing leaps. I had revised this piece many times before, on a computer, and never realized it contained excess verbiage. To some extent this is the natural process of revision, and the anecdote shows why God made editors. But I may have kept some of this excess out of the story altogether had I written and revised the piece longhand.

When I write with a pen, shaping each letter, my mind speeds along much more quickly than my hand. On a computer, my fingers have a better chance of keeping up. I noticed recently while journaling that writing longhand gives me time to move past and discard thoughts that come to me mid-sentence. I am farther along in my thought process by the time I reach the sentence’s end. In this way, slowing down the composition process speeds up the reader’s experience of a text, since I am less likely to drag her through every turn of my rambling mind.

Writing well requires different skills when using a word processor than when writing by hand. In the digital age, I have the benefit of speed, but I have to be a better self-editor because my readers deserve a well-crafted narrative that moves at a decent clip, taking them skipping along from rock to rock. The most successful way to create this experience is to remove stones from the stream, leaving gaps that allow the reader to soar.

I wonder if writers have saved any time by moving into digital workspaces where cutting, pasting, and writing at great velocity are so much easier than they once were. Of course, forms, reading platforms, and attention spans have changed over the years as well. Perhaps the current vogue for short forms is connected to the ubiquity of word processing. After all, we tend to value what we must work harder to obtain, and writing long is easier than it once was, whereas proper revision requires a new level of commitment.

Andria (not verified) said:

I know many writers who can only write a first draft by hand. I’m among them, but when you become a parent and only have tiny scraps of time to write before your kids wake up…then maybe speed should take precedence! I find that many of my first-draft “chapters” top off at three pages, and I realized this was about all I could pound out by hand in the hour that I have on a really good morning before my kids wake up. Weirdly, I think writing by hand encourages brevity for me, and I go to the computer to force myself to further develop and lengthen scenes and chapters. I don’t need my “morning brain” and bubble of quiet for that kind of work.

Excited about your new web site!!!

Randolph Maxted (not verified) said:

Interesting. Myself, I always write initial drafts longhand, just cant do it at the ‘puter. Revising is a different matter; by then I’m past the initial need for whatever it is—dance of hand on paper, feel of a pen (o sacred instrument!), slump of body in a comfortable chair—that makes composing longhand such a delightful venture.