Okiekokie. The question is this: as a writer, do you prefer to type your "raw" material, or are you in the habit of scribbling it all longhand then typing it up? And, of course - why?

Historically, until the start of this year, I'd written absolutely everything - upto and including school essays - on the 'puter. Notwithstanding the fact that my handwriting and spelling skills (damn autocorrect!) have suffered terribly as a result, I was quite happy to hammer away at a keyboard, gradually fucking-up my spinal column with my lousy posture and allowing my skin to turn 40% transluscent as a result of sunlight starvation.

I wrote the entirety of my first "real" novel (and all my slightly embarassing work-for-hire ones) in this fashion, and it was only whilst proof-reading the first complete draft that I started to rethink my approach.

Firstly, it occurred to me that whole chunks of the text were completely irrelevant. Stylistic guff, basically: pointless and irritating. I started to think about how it could be that all this clearly-superfluous bollocks had found its way into my work, and sooner-or-later I decided to point the finger firmly at - you guessed it - Typing.

I've done so much of it that my typing speed tops-out at about 90 words per minute. That, I believe, is a little faster than my brain can keep up. Consequently whilst my mind is chugging-along to create the next slice of attention-searingly wonderful prose, thick with poetic brilliance and plot-relevance (yeah, yeah... I can dream), all the time my fingers are hammering away regardless. It's like the digital version of Hugh Grant stammering, or someone stopping to say "uuuuuh..." between sentences. Brain-plays-catchup, essentially.

On top of that I'd noticed that when I came to read things back they acted very differently upon my attention depending if I read them on the screen, or on printed paper. Something to do with portability, perhaps, or the organic nature of "feeling" paper in your hands, or... whatever. I don't know. But I started to think it would certainly be more useful to experience everything I'd written via the medium of paper, because that - after all - will be how it eventually reaches the reader.

And last but not least, the longer I stay sitting at my computer hitting keys, the more liable I am to get bored and spend a calming 5 minutes on the 'net, or chatting on MSN, or simply jerking-upright with indecent excitement every time the latest scrap of Viagra-shilling spam splatters into my inbox. All of which eats-up a loooot of time.

The freelance writer, I concluded, is not biologically designed to operate in the presence of such a wealth of procrastination opportunities.

So for the current WIP, I thought I'd try something different. I went out and bought myself a big fat hardback brick of a writing-pad, 500+ pages, and have ever since endeavoured to do things the Old Fashioned way.

My findings:

On the down side, my wrist spends much of its time hurting like hell (though this can be a useful excuse for getting out of doing the washing-up). Also I'm developing a charming callous on the side of my finger, and my posture hasn't improved much at all. I'm also spending rather more money thanks to the sudden appearance of coffee shops, pubs and bars in my working life.

But on the plus side, I'm taking the time to choose every word I write. I'm not filling-up pages with random dross that'll only get deleted eventually anyway. I'm getting out of the house and not getting distracted every time the "You Have Mail" bell tinkles. I'm saving time - believe it or not - because whilst I write each sentence slower, I'm procrastinating faaar less. And above all there's something indescribably *natural* about being able to see the evolution of a page: the crossings-out, the reinstatements, the notes and corrections and margin-conversations with yourself. There's something charming about being able to flick through pages and pages of your own illegible spidery text, and say to yourself: Yeah... Yeah, I did that.

I'm about halfway through my first draft now - 50,000 words and counting - and I simply wouldn't go back. So who's with me? And who's prepared to give it a go? And who's going to come-out fighting for the humble Keyboard?

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Like Stuart, I do all my writing on the computer. Cannot imagine going back. My handwriting is atrocious. I also revise on the computer (multiple times), though sometimes (when it really matters) I print it out and correct it by hand.
I do not touch-type and get a lot of typos because my eyes are on the keyboard. Spellcheck is worthless because I use a lot of foreign words -- and because it's just worthless.
Coincidentally, there's a debate perking away on a freelancer's discussion group to which I belong about editing onscreen vs. on hardcopy. I do both, depending on what format I receive the work in, and I'm equally comfortable. That said, I find that for both editing and writing I'm much faster and more efficient onscreen.
But the main point is that by this point in my life my handwriting is frequently illegible to ME, let alone anyone else. No carpal tunnel, and my martial arts interest doesn't damage the hands (on the contrary) but twenty-something years as a chef did leave their mark. So while I do carry a little notebook in my back pocket (because my memory ain't much better than my handwriting) to jot things down while I'm on the bus, I never write longhand. And I'm totally in agreement with the posters who say they'd never be writers if not for computers. My first efforts were on an old portable Remington, very Front Page and all that, and it put me off trying to write for years. Of course, I'm not a Writer in the sense that most of you are, but whatever I do is largely the result of the enabling MS Word.
I hated the physical act of writing longhand as a child--I guess writer's cramp affects us at various levels of nastiness--and still do. If I hadn't learned to type at 12, I probably would never have been a writer, despite having a published author in the family. I was addicted to my manual typewriter, even in junior high. Then came the Smith-Corona Personal Word Processor--typing with editing! Heaven. Then finally the PC with word processor and all the bells and whistles. If I'd been born in the age of the quill, I'd never have gotten past a first chapter. It makes me hold the authors of all those massive 19th-century novels in even greater respect.

To get out of the house, however, I often take along my Alphasmart--a trusty little "keyboard with a memory" that is just fine for pounding out first drafts. They are light (2 lbs), inexpensive, and nearly indestructible. Few editing functions but they serve the place of a paper scribble pad which I'd never use.

Summary: keyboards 4ever.
And now of course I've had an inquiry about Alphasmarts! You can check out the details at www.alphasmart.com . Mine is the Alphasmart 2000. It has a tiny little 6-line screen and it won't do cut/paste editing, but you can move your cursor and insert or erase text; sufficient for first drafts or for taking notes.

There are some newer models which, I think, have more functions, but you can get a used 2000 on eBay for under $100 (just be sure it is in working condition AND includes the cable for uploading your text to your computer -- you need different cables for PC or Mac, so get the right one. You can also buy the cable from the manufacturer).

The whole thing runs on 3 standard AA batteries and goes for hundreds of hours, or you can get a special rechargeable battery pack and/or an AC adapter from the company. These gadgets were designed for schoolchildren, to teach keyboard skills, so they're tough! I've carried mine around in a backpack with just some bubble wrap around it. Once again, this is the best solution I've found for a really portable, and affordable, memory keyboard for those of us who just can't stand longhand.
I have to type now. I'm too impatient when I write in longhand and my handwriting looks awful. It has reallly suffered over the years.

When I'm not sure of something I've typed, I still like to print it out and look at it on paper because it looks different that way and I can catch more of the mistakes.

Morgan Mandel


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