Friday, July 3, 2009

The Handwritten Word

By Susan

I have always loved writing but, more than anything, I enjoy writing for an audience of one—me. Without the pressure of writing for newspapers (which I used to do), I have been freer in my words, less bound by rules, and basically happier in pushing words out on paper than if I am working on a deadline. This year, as I dove back into writing as a discipline instead of just as recreation, I changed some processes. Certain things, like scheduling times to write, joining writing groups for feedback, and increasing my time in research and study, have been clearly positive steps in my progress. Other process changes have been more difficult. Switching from handwritten to hard drive was one of them.

My current work-in-progress was originally bound in six Moleskin notebooks, wrapped in elastic bands, and completely handwritten. When I got serious about the manuscript (for example: calling it a ‘manuscript’ instead of ‘stuff I’m writing’), one of the first things that I did was to transfer it to hard drive. It just made more sense, I reasoned, to type the novel once I decided to stop dabbling and start really writing it. Yet there’s something to be said for the handwritten word, and I will always prefer it.

As a writer, I prefer longhand for creativity and the glowing screen and keyboard for efficiency. Efficiency won out in the creative battle in my quest to complete the novel. Even now, when I work on my own manuscript, I call tell by the flavor of the scene where I originally wrote it: at my desk, hunched over a screen, or in a park, sitting in the shade with my pen in my hand.

I have a journal that has been buried for the past four years, and yesterday morning I dug it up from the bottom of a hope chest. From my own handwriting, I could see love, pain, loss and hopefulness. Each entry was in its own ink, smudged with time, pencil lead, sometimes chocolate and sometimes tears. I could feel more from this journal—the few months of time that I captured in its pages, because it was handwritten. It reinforced to me how much I love the written word—the hand-written word. There are surprises there, emotions, and the stories are richer to me when I read it straight from someone’s hand, even if it is my own. It’s as though there is a piece of the author with the words. As though the wrapping paper is better than the gift itself.

My own handwriting tells a story to me. Reading it, I feel the anger or happiness or despair that forced the words onto paper, frustration in quick jabs of ink, entire paragraphs marked through, scribbled out—my old fashioned “delete” key. Pages ripped, folded down, torn out. That tells me more than the thread of the plot ever will—it tells me about myself.

This just shows me that there is no “right” way to write. Every writer finds their own passage and process to writing fiction. Is it more creative to write by hand? For me, sometimes yes. Yet Hemingway wrote for hours every morning at a typewriter, agonizing over each word. Did this make his words less heartfelt? I doubt it. My story continues to be a love letter, written by hand, regardless of its transfer to the keys. As for efficiency? I’ll take the keys any day—for editing, organization, and spell check. Will that mean it takes me twice as long to complete the manuscript than if I only wrote it once? Maybe, but I doubt it. It will be better this way, as a love letter, a story, and a novel. I need to see it in my own hand first. Then, if I’m lucky, I can share it with you.


  1. Nice, Susan. I love writing by hand, too, when my wonky thumb joint is cooperating! When you can backspace or delete so quickly, the emotion and voice (that elusive thing) really shine through.

  2. That really oughta say "can't." :) Changes the whole meaning otherwise. Oops.

  3. I write longhand as well. Mostly because I have trouble doing a first draft in my house, and I'm not a fan of the laptop, but also because it feels more personal. My manuscript's second draft is what I type into the computer. And then the editing begins!


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